Turtle Hotspots Identified Around the World Contain Diverse Species and Richness

(15.07.2015) Chelonian Conservation and Biology – Global biodiversity is becoming more threatened as the human population continues to grow and use the world’s resources. Turtles have the misfortune of being on the leading edge of biodiversity decline and serve as an indicator of ecosystem degradation.

Researchers have identified 16 turtle “hotspots” around the world. These regions host the many native species of tortoises and freshwater turtles. By focusing on such areas, conservationists can target preservation efforts where the greatest effects can be achieved.

Scientists from the Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, and State University of New York at Stony Brook recently published an article in the journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology that names three types of hotspots—biodiversity hotspots, high-biodiversity wilderness areas, and turtle priority areas. Taxon richness and endemism values are offered for the 16 identified hotspots, which host 262 species, or 83 percent of all turtle species.

To help set conservation priorities, actions such as the creation of the international Red List of Threatened Species have been taken. Just over half of all turtle species have been identified as threatened with extinction according to the Red List criteria—one of the highest percentages of any major vertebrate group.

Another approach is the identification of turtle conservation priority areas such as biodiversity hotspots, megadiversity countries, and ecoregions. Concentrating conservation activity in areas with high species richness, high endemism and irreplaceability, along with high percentages of threatened species and high levels of threats such as habitat degradation and loss can lead to the greatest outcome for the conservation effort.

This study of turtle hotspots finds 21 countries that harbor 15 or more species of nonmarine turtles. Two sites of exceptional turtle richness are the Mobile Bay, Alabama, area and the Ganges-Brahmaputra confluence in Asia where at least 18 turtle species coexist. The richest biodiversity wilderness areas for turtles are the deserts of North America and the Amazonia region.

The original habitat within the 16 hotspots that contain most of the world’s turtle species amounts to less than 7 percent of the Earth’s land surface. While every turtle taxon, every region, and every area is unique in some way and deserves conservation efforts, targeting efforts on those places with the highest diversity and endemism, as identified in this study, can bring about the greatest results.

Full text of the article, “Turtle Hotspots: An Analysis of the Occurrence of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Biodiversity Hotspots, High-Biodiversity Wilderness Areas, and Turtle Priority Areas,” Chelonian Conservation and Biology, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2015, is now available.



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