Protecting Nature's Hotspots for people and prosperity

Hotspot Facts

Malagasy child in forest



To qualify as a biodiversity hotspot, a region must meet two strict criteria: 

  • Contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants (> 0.5 percent of the world’s total) as endemics (species found nowhere else on Earth). 
  • Have lost at least 70 percent of its original habitat.

Many of the biodiversity hotspots exceed this criteria. For example, both the Sundaland Hotspot in Southeast Asia and the Tropical Andes Hotspot have around 15,000 endemic plant species, while the loss of vegetation in some hotspots has reached 95 percent.


All of Earth's biodiversity hotspots have high endemism.

Plants: The hotspots hold at least 150,000 endemic plant species, 50 percent of the world’s total vascular plants.

Vertebrates: Overall, 11,980 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are endemic to the hotspots (42 percent of all terrestrial vertebrates), while a total of 22,022 vertebrate species occur in the hotpots (77 percent of the world's total). In addition, there are more than 3,400 freshwater fish species endemic to the hotspots, which is likely to be an underestimate.


The biodiversity hotspots once stretched across 15.7 percent of the Earth’s land surface, however 86 percent of the hotspots’ original habitat has already been destroyed. Today, the intact remnants of the hotspots now cover only 2.3 percent of the Earth’s land surface.


The 36 biodiversity hotspots are home to around 2 billion people, including some of the world's poorest and many whom rely directly on healthy ecosystems for their livelihood and well-being.

The hotspots provide crucial ecosystem services for human life, such as provision of clean water, pollination and climate regulation. These essential benefits have been valued at approximately $1.59 trillion per year (in 2005 dollars), or $69,071 per square kilometer.

These remarkable regions also hold some of the highest human population densities on the planet, but the relationship between people and biodiversity is not simply one where more people lead to greater impacts on biodiversity. Much of human-biodiversity impacts lies not in human density but rather in human activity.

In a startling result, a new study published by the scientific journal Conservation Biology found that more than 80 percent of the world’s major armed conflicts from 1950-2000 occurred in the hotspots. Many of these conflicts were caused or exacerbated by scarcity of natural resources, such as arable land and freshwater. Conservation in the hotspots promotes sustainable management of these essential natural resources and supports economic growth, reducing drivers of violent conflict.

origin of concept

A seminal paper by British ecologist Norman Myers in 1988 first identified 10 tropical forest “hotspots” characterized both by exceptional levels of plant endemism and serious levels of habitat loss. In 1990, Myers added a further eight hotspots, including four Mediterranean-type ecosystems.

Conservation International (CI) adopted Myers’ hotspots as its institutional blueprint in 1989, and in 1996, the organization made the decision to undertake a reassessment of the hotspots concept, including an examination of whether key areas had been overlooked. Three years later an extensive global review was undertaken, which introduced quantitative thresholds for the designation of biodiversity hotspots and resulted in the designation of 25.

The most recent analysis culminated in 2005 and brought the total number of biodiversity hotspots globally to 34 based on the work of nearly 400 specialists. ​

In 2011, the Forests of East Australia was identified as the 35th hotspot by a team of researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) working with CI.

In February 2016, the North American Coastal Plain was recognized as meeting the criteria of Myers et al. (2000) for a global biodiversity hotspot​, the 36th.

Learn more about Biodiversity Hotspots​

See Also
Global map: Map showing location of 35 of 36 hotspots, including where we invest