Overview of recent land‐cover changes in biodiversity hotspots
Between 1992 and 2015, nearly 148 million hectares (Mha) within biodiversity hotspots – biologically rich but threatened terrestrial regions – worldwide underwent land‐cover changes, equating to 6% of the total areal extent of hotspots.
Forest losses in hotspots amounted to 54 Mha (–7% of the forest area present in 1992), driven primarily by agricultural expansion (38 Mha); shrubland or savanna also declined by 23 Mha (–8%). Over the same time, urban areas expanded by 10 Mha (+108%).
Major losses in forest areas occurred in Sundaland (11 Mha, –13% relative to 1992), Indo‐Burma (6 Mha, –6%), and Mesoamerica (5 Mha, –7%). Approximately 7.5 Mha of forest loss occurred within protected areas (–5% of the respective forest area in 1992), of which 3.9 Mha was cleared between 2000 and 2015, with ~1 Mha alone converted in the 5 years after 2010. More stringent and effective land‐based policies are urgently needed to prevent additional landscape fragmentation and preserve existing species richness in the world's biodiversity hotspots.