Biodiversity in worlds Mediterranean-climate regions faces increasing threats

February 18th, 2009 - 4:28 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 18 (ANI): In a new study, scientists at The Nature Conservancy and UC (University of California) Davis have determined that biodiversity in the worlds Mediterranean-climate regions is facing significant and increasing threats.

The study is part of a global conservation assessment of the rare Mediterranean biome.

Throughout human history, the mild climates of mediterranean regions have fostered growth of major urban centers, vast agricultural zones and dense human populations all in the midst of some of the rarest biodiversity on Earth, said Dr. Rebecca Shaw, a scientist with The Nature Conservancys California program and the leader of the global assessment.

Mediterranean climates characterized by warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters are extremely rare, found on only 2 percent of the Earths land surface: portions of California/Baja California, South Africa, Australia, Chile, and the Mediterranean Basin.

Increasing the pace and scale of conservation in Mediterranean regions is critically important to biodiversity protection, because these regions contain 20 percent of the worlds plant species.

If we are to reduce rates of biodiversity loss, then understanding patterns and trends in threats is of paramount importance, said lead author Dr. Emma Underwood, a research scientist at the Information Center for the Environment at the University of California, Davis.

To this end, scientists from The Nature Conservancy and U. C. Davis analyzed changes in land use and population density in the worlds five Mediterranean-climate regions.

Overall, population density and urban areas increased in these regions by 13 percent from 1990 to 2000, while agricultural areas spread by 1 percent.

Population grew by over 34 million people from 1990 to 2000, twice the population of Chile.

Urban areas expanded by 2,110 square miles (5,480 square kilometers), an area about half the size of the nation of Lebanon.

The greatest increase in urban area was in California, USA and Baja California, Mexico. Loss of natural habitat to agriculture was greatest in southwest Australia.

According to Underwood, urban expansion is worrisome in that it is not only impacting lowlands, which have been the historic urban centers, but is spreading into intact foothills, especially those within commutable distances to major cities.

These findings indicate the need to accelerate conservation action to outpace threats in the Mediterranean biome.

This information can help support decisions about how best to invest scarce conservation resources, said co-author Kirk Klausmeyer, a scientist with The Nature Conservancy. (ANI)

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