Future Earth and the blog on biodiversity hotspots

Future Earth is a new 10-year research programme on environmental change and global sustainability. It includes the bioGENESIS project.

The Future Earth blog has an interesting section "Spotlight on Environmental Buzzwords" with an entry: "Biodiversity Hotspot"


I like the idea of re-examining current “environmental buzzwords” – popular terms that often are tossed around, with only superficial understanding and explanation. Of course, it can be hard to provide the needed insights and clarifications in a short blog entry. McClure’s short piece, I think, suffers this weakness - it unfairly gives the impression that “biodiversity hotspots” is distracting from other conservation objectives and is relatively over-funded. It would be a shame if Future Earth members/stakeholders/ funders were left with that impression. A more positive, constructive, perspective can be found by correcting some misleading information, and providing some missing information.

McClure characterises the hotspots conservation goal as all about “conserving small areas of high species diversity.” This is misleading. In fact, area x could have lower diversity than area y, but gain hotspot status because it has lots of species found no-where else. The sensible way to think about hotspots (as expressed in many papers on hotspots) is that they point to places that are irreplaceable (if we want to conserve global biodiversity) and vulnerable (to biodiversity loss). In this way, hotspots link to fundamental principles of systematic conservation planning (SCP). However, rather than defining a complete set of areas representing biodiversity (as in conventional SCP), hotspots point to those areas that, if lost, would foreclose opportunities to ever conserve some elements of global biodiversity. Continued loss of portions of such hotspots, and, ultimately, loss of all the species restricted to those hotspots, might be thought of as a global biodiversity tipping point.

The other advantage found in these links to SCP principles of irreplaceability and vulnerability is that they allow integration of now-standard elements of SCP, including ecosystem services and other needs of society, “opportunity costs” of conservation, and so on. Use of irreplaceability and vulnerability supports the “efficiency” of SCP in balancing different needs of society. Such integration of SCP into biodiversity hotspots and related programs has been an active research area (see e.g. Brooks 2010 chapter on biodiversity hotspots, in the book Conservation Biology for All).

While McClure argues that hotspots efforts can mean that places providing important ecosystem services may “go unmentioned”, the more constructive perspective recognises that hotpots fit into a framework that considers multiple goals of conservation.

Biodiversity hotspots logically could find a good home in Future Earth programs – they link to global biodiversity tipping points and the idea of risk-averse decision-making. They link local/regional decision-making to global implications. At the same time, they sit in an SCP/sustainability framework, so that decision-making about conservation of hotspots is part of a bigger picture that includes consideration of ecosystem services, costs, social preferences, and other factors.

Dan Faith
(co-lead of bioGENESIS)
Comment submission, 31 Dec 2013

Dr Dan Faith , Senior Principal Research Scientist email:danfaith8[at]yahoo.com.au
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