South East Asia’s Hotspots of Biodiversity

September 5, 2022

Southeast Asia is one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, but its unique biodiversity is severely endangered by direct and indirect anthropogenic threats, such as poaching, deforestation and land degradation. In order to preserve the species of the region, conservation efforts have to be focused towards those areas that, more than others, host the greatest number of species – in other words, towards the hotspots of biodiversity. For an entire decade, from 2007 to 2016, researches affiliated with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit deployed camera traps throughout the Southeast Asian region. Spanning 8 countries and across almost 3,000 locations, this intensive study gathered what is likely to be the richest camera trap dataset ever collected in Southeast Asia, including abundance data of 90 species in the mainland and of 58 species in the Sunda Islands of Borneo and Sumatra, providing an invaluable opportunity to gain insights into the distribution of biodiversity across the region. Using this rich camera trap dataset, WildCRU’s DPhil student Luca Chiaverini developed a methodologic framework to investigate the most important environmental factors driving or, contrarily, hindering the habitat suitability for the entire suite of sampled species. Using this information, Luca Chiaverini mapped the hotspots for the sampled biodiversity, revealing the overwhelming importance of the mountains of Southeast China and of the Malay Peninsula for biodiversity in mainland Southeast Asia, of Sabah for Bornean biodiversity, and of the Barisan Mountains for Sumatran biodiversity. However, only a little fraction of the modelled biodiversity is formally protected – just 18.6% on the mainland, 18.2% for Sumatra and just 9.2% for Borneo, highlighting how urgent it is for conservation efforts to be focused on these areas, in order to protected as much of the regional biodiversity as possible.