Biodiversity hotspots are regions that harbour disproportionate biodiversity, especially of species with small ranges, and regarded as major conservation priorities (Zachos and Habel 2011). Biodiversity hotspots occur in some of the most exotic and romanticized regions around the world, such as Madagascar, the Caribbean Islands, the Western Ghats of India, and the Succulent Karoo of South Africa. By preserving these regions, we disproportionately preserve the diversity of life on Earth, and thus these conservation efforts are seen as critically important.
However, some argue that the emphasis on global biodiversity hotspots leaves other unique or less diverse regions open to human impacts since they have a perceived low natural value, and certainly not valuable enough to stem other economically motivated activities. This mind set may put large habitats under increased risk. This conflict is front and center in a recent paper by Durant and colleagues in Diversity and Distributions (Durant et al. 2013). In this paper, Durant et al. argue that large, globally relevant systems like hot deserts are under-protected, leading to potentially major collapses in these systems.
Ahaggar Mountains Oasis, from Wikipedia
They use the Sahara desert as the case study and show that while conservation efforts have been focused on hotspots, the majority of large vertebrates in the Sahara desert are now extinct or critically endangered. System like hot deserts are important for human economic well-being, but our activities there have greatly reduced the amount of intact, undisturbed habitat.
Durant et al. argue, that had there been greater conservation effort and scientific interest in the Sahara, the catastrophic declines in large vertebrates may have been averted. This paper highlights the reality that we often undervalue certain ecosystems, regardless of the important ecosystem services and functions that they deliver.
S. M. Durant, T. Wacher, S. Bashir, R. Woodroffe, P. De Ornellas, C. Ransom, J. Newby, T. Abáigar, M. Abdelgadir, H. El Alqamy, J. Baillie, M. Beddiaf, F. Belbachir, A. Belbachir-Bazi, A. A. Berbash, N. E. Bemadjim, R. Beudels-Jamar, L. Boitani, C. Breit (2013). Fiddling in biodiversity hotspots while deserts burn? Collapse of the Sahara's megafauna
Diversity and Distributions DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12157
Zachos, F. E. and J. C. Habel, editors. 2011. Biodiversity Hotspots: Distribution and Protection of Conservation Priority Areas. Springer-Verlag+.