How Global Biodiversity Hotspots May Go Unrecognized: Lessons From The North American Coastal Plain


Biodiversity; Conservation planning; Endemism; Hotspot; Prioritization


Biodiversity hotspots are conservation priorities. We identify the North American Coastal Plain (NACP) as a global hotspot based on the classic definition, a region with > 1500 endemic plant species and > 70% habitat loss. This region has been bypassed in prior designations due to misconceptions and myths about its ecology and history. These fallacies include: (1) young age of the NACP, climatic instability over time and submergence during high sea-level stands; (2) climatic and environmental homogeneity; (3) closed forest as the climax vegetation; and (4) fire regimes that are mostly anthropogenic. We show that the NACP is older and more climatically stable than usually assumed, spatially heterogeneous and extremely rich in species and endemics for its range of latitude, especially within pine savannas and other mostly herbaceous and fire-dependent communities. We suspect systematic biases and misconceptions, in addition to missing information, obscure the existence of similarly biologically significant regions world-wide. Potential solutions to this problem include (1) increased field biological surveys and taxonomic determinations, especially within grassy biomes and regions with low soil fertility, which tend to have much overlooked biodiversity; (2) more research on the climatic refugium role of hotspots, given that regions of high endemism often coincide with regions with low velocity of climate change; (3) in low-lying coastal regions, consideration of the heterogeneity in land area generated by historically fluctuating sea levels, which likely enhanced opportunities for evolution of endemic species; and (4) immediate actions to establish new protected areas and implement science-based management to restore evolutionary environmental conditions in newly recognized hotspots.

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Diversity and Distributions





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84920823639 (Scopus)

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