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Abstract Detail

The North American Coastal Plain: a Global Biodiversity Hotspot

Noss, Reed F [1].

How the North American Coastal Plain Global Biodiversity Hotspot Went Unrecognized.

Global biodiversity hotspots have been identified and mapped since 1988, when Norman Myers described 10 areas of tropical forest that have extremely high plant endemism and rates of habitat destruction. The most recent global evaluation of hotspots, by Russell Mittermeier and colleagues in 2011, recognizes 35 global hotspots, each with 1500 or more endemic vascular plants and with at least 70 percent of its original habitat lost. Most of these hotspots are in tropical and Mediterranean regions. As illustrated in this symposium, the North American Coastal Plain meets the criteria for a global biodiversity hotspot. Why has it gone unrecognized as such? Several reasons seem likely: (1) The succession-to-climax concept that has dominated much of the history of plant ecology has also biased conservationists against acceptance of vegetation types that are maintained in a non-climax condition by frequent fire and other disturbances. Specifically, in 1962 Quarterman and Keever declared “the southern mixed hardwood forest” the climax vegetation of the Southeastern Coastal Plain, with pine communities successional. This was followed by Küchler’s map of “potential natural vegetation,” which classified most of the longleaf pine region as “southern mixed forest” (Fagus-Liquidambar-Magnolia-Pinus-Quercus) and implicitly assumed that fires that occur in the region are primarily anthropogenic. Küchler’s classification was subsequently used in many conservation applications. Hence, the true disturbance regime and natural vegetation of the Coastal Plain went unrecognized, and the secondary hardwood forests that replaced pine savannas after fire exclusion and agricultural abandonment were regarded as natural, obscuring real habitat loss. (2) Plant community classifications in the Coastal Plain have been based primarily on trees, overlooking the grassland/savanna character of much of the region prior to extensive anthropogenic habitat change. (3) The Coastal Plain was not expected to harbor high richness or endemism because of its low climatic and topographic diversity, with a maximum elevation of <250 m; therefore it was overlooked in global hotspots analyses. (4) Data on species richness and endemism were not available across the Coastal Plain until quite recently, preventing accurate documentation of the region as a global hotspot. With current knowledge of the ecological and biogeographic history, natural disturbance regime, and species richness and endemism of the Coastal Plain, no valid reason exists for excluding it from the list of global biodiversity hotspots.

Broader Impacts:

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1 - University of Central Florida, Department of Biology, 4000 Central Florida Blvd, Orlando, FL, 32816-2368, USA

biodiversity hotspot
North American Coastal Plain
Species richness
fire ecology.

Presentation Type: Symposium or Colloquium Presentation
Session: SY08
Location: Elmwood/Riverside Hilton
Date: Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Time: 4:15 PM
Number: SY08007
Abstract ID:197
Candidate for Awards:None

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