The Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot

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The Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot stretches over a curving arc of widely scattered but biogeographically similar mountains from Saudi Arabia and western Yemen, to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, covering an area of more than 1 million square kilometers over a distance of more than 7,000 kilometers. It was first recognized as globally important for species conservation by Mittermeier et al. (2004). The hotspot comprises a discontinuous and divided chain of roughly four ranges of mountains. These ranges start in the north with the Asir Mountains of Saudi Arabia and the highlands of Yemen. Below these, the Ethiopian and Arabian Peninsula highlands and mountains, which split approximately 13 million years ago into three parts to produce the Great Rift Valley through a rifting process as the African continental crust pulled apart. Southeast of the ancient Ethiopian and Albertine massifs, more recent volcanic activity has produced the mountains of the Kenyan and Tanzanian highlands (Mounts Kilimanjaro, Meru, Kenya and Elgon, and the Aberdare range). Farther south, the Eastern Arc and Southern Rift mountains form another ancient massif, running from the Taita Hills in Kenya through the Eastern Arc in Tanzania to Mounts Ntchisi and Mulanje in Malawi. Farther outliers of the Eastern Afromontane, known here as the Southern Montane Islands, are found in the Chimanimani highlands of eastern Zimbabwe, Mounts Gorongosa, Namuli, Mabu and Chiperone in Mozambique, and the Mafinga Mountains that straddle the Malawi-Zambia border. The Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot is one of the Earth’s 35 biodiversity hotspots and the most biologically rich yet, threatened areas around the globe. It is one of the biological wonders of the world, with globally significant levels of diversity and endemism. Its ecosystems provide tens of millions of people with freshwater and other ecosystem services that are essential to their survival. The region’s unique biological attributes, as well as its economic and cultural importance, led the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) to prioritize the region and develop an investment strategy known as the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot ecosystem profile. Developed through the input of more than 120 organizations based in or working in the region, the profile aims to guide CEPF’s investment in the region and offer a blueprint for future conservation efforts in the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot and cooperation within the donor community. $9.8 million worth of grants were to be disbursed to civil society groups such as community associations and other nongovernmental organizations. Of the 10,856 species identified in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot, almost a third (30.8 percent) are endemic. The following table shows species diversity and endemism in the hotspot (source CEPF):

Development is a key issue for long term, sustainable protection of biodiversity in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot. Biodiversity degradation is directly linked to inappropriate development projects for local communities, and because the future of conservation lies in the decisions that are going to be made in the coming years in terms of development policies by the national governments, regional entities and to a certain extent by external agents such as donors (whose large investments still influence development directions), international foundations and organizations, or private investors from developed and emergent countries. Additionally, the lack of understanding of the importance of biodiversity on the part of decision makers, and also a lack of dialogue and coordination between stakeholders that have an obvious interest in enhanced coordination, including NGOs from both the conservation and the development worlds. CEPF's aims to enable civil society within the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot region to have a more prominent role into driving development in a more biodiversity-friendly direction. The Eastern Afromontane Hotspot stretches over a curving arc of more than 7,000 kilometers from Saudi Arabia to Mozambique. The KBAs cover an area of more than 50 million hectares, of which only 38 percent have full legal protection and variable amounts of government funding. In the past five years, almost $1 billion dollars (at least $946 million) has been invested to support environmental and related issues within the hotspot, and yet its biodiversity remains seriously threatened. The priority KBAs identified for CEPF investment represent approximately 5.5 million hectares, so the CEPF contribution would equate to roughly $2 per hectare over five years for all the KBAs, on average, with the goal of supporting paths leading to longterm sustainability. Ensuring the sustainability of CEPF interventions in this hotspot is a significant challenge, and an awareness of the magnitude of the challenge has been built into the strategy. One of its major intentions is to leverage financial support from other donors and investors, which is acutely needed in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot. The combination of partnerships, leveraging financial and technical support, engagement in planning initiatives from local to landscape scale, tapping into increasing awareness of the economic values of ecosystem services, and support of and building the capacity within civil society offers the best hope for a sustainable conservation strategy for the hotspot. Four strategic directions guide the CEPF investment. These strategic directions and their associated investment priorities were determined through an intensive consultative process with stakeholders and reflect the views of civil society in the hotspot:

1. Mainstream biodiversity into wider development policies, plans and projects to deliver the co-benefits of biodiversity conservation, improved local livelihoods and economic development in priority corridors.

2. Improve the protection and management of the KBA network throughout the hotspot.

3. Initiate and support sustainable financing and related actions for the conservation of priority KBAs and corridors.

4. Provide strategic leadership and effective coordination of CEPF investment through a regional implementation team.

Taxonomic GroupNumber of SpeciesNumber of Endemic Species
Amphibians22968
Birds1,299106
FreshwaterFishes893617
Mammals490104
Plants7,5982,356
Reptiles34793
AllTaxa10,8563,344

For more information about CEPF investment strategy please visit CEPF

The Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot encompasses several widely scattered, but bio-geographically similar mountain ranges. The patchy nature of the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot boundary itself suggested a basis for identifying these broad planning units. The boundary generally aligns with the ecoregional framework developed by WWF (Burgess et al. 2004a). The Arabian Highlands Peninsula in Saudi Arabia and Yemen make up 3.9 and 3.5%, respectively. It is characterized by rich plant endemism, which was the basis for the identification of 37 KBAs. It is also densely inhabited and cultivated. Biodiversity in this corridor is reliant on traditional agricultural practices, such as terraced agricultural and shade-grown coffee, which create micro-biomes for plants, reptiles and birds. In the Arabian Peninsula, vegetation at lower altitudes (300 to 1,500 meters) is a patchy mosaic of drought-deciduous open woodland (lower altitudes), succulent shrubland, species-rich riparian woodland or ―valley forest‖ (Hall et al. 2008 and 2009). At higher altitudes on the escarpments (1,600 to 2,200 meters), the vegetation is dominated by evergreen bushland and thicket and riparian, evergreen woodland. This is the species-rich, mist-affected ―coffee zone,‖ where large trees provide shade around the terraces and fields; such habitats are rich in endemic plant species. The highlands (2,200 to 3,700 meters) are again heavily terraced with only small patches of drought-deciduous montane woodland remaining, including Acacia origena, along with even fewer relictual stands of Juniperus procera.

A total of 7 bird species have restricted range within the Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) recognized by BirdLife International, including: Philby’s partridge Alectoris philbyi, Yemen warbler Sylvia buryi, Yemen thrush Turdus menachensis, Arabian waxbill Estrilda rufibarba, Yemen accentor Prunella fagani. Additionally, internationally important numbers of migratory soaring birds use the Red Sea-Rift Valley flyway on their annual migration between Eurasia and Africa. While the exact numbers passing through the hotspot are unknown, it seems likely that a significant majority of the 1.5 million birds of prey and storks using this flyway use the highlands of the Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopia as their migration corridor (Porter et al. 2005). The Eastern Afromontane Hotspot is home to nearly 500 mammal species, more than 100 of which are endemic to the region, including several large flagship mammals such as the leopard (Panthera pardus), and other threatened species of primates and smaller mammals.


KBAs in Yemen

In the Arabian Peninsula portion of the hotspot, KBA identification depended primarily on plant data. Additionally, the IUCN Red List of globally threatened species and a network of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by the BirdLife International aided in the identification of site priorities and data for the taxonomic groups through analyses of regionally available data and literature as well as consultations with local experts in the region. While the protection of a network of sites is sufficient to conserve many elements of biodiversity in the medium term, the long-term conservation of all elements of biodiversity requires the consolidation of interconnected landscapes of sites; such landscape-scale planning units, or ―conservation corridors‖ are intended to support ecosystem resilience and conserve broad scale ecological and evolutionary processes, as well as to provide focal regions for CEPF engagement and investment. The Arabian Highlands in Western Yemen and Southwestern Saudi Arabia are rich in plant endemism, and this endemism served as the basis for the identification of 37 KBAs in this profile. This narrow strip of Arabian Highlands near the Red Sea coast is relatively homogenous and follows a clear terrain gradient. This corridor is also one of the most densely inhabited and cultivated areas in the Arabian Peninsula. Biodiversity in this corridor is highly reliant on traditional agricultural practices, such as shade coffee plantation, that create micro-biomes of high biodiversity value for plants, reptiles and birds.

Vulnerability was measured by the threat status of species according to the IUCN Red List. Thus, sites holding Critically Endangered species are more urgent conservation priorities than those holding Endangered species, which are in turn more urgent priorities than those holding only Vulnerable or Not Threatened species. This criterion allows investment to focus on the species at highest risk of extinction. The number of species associated with each site does not play a part in this approach to prioritization, since there are certainly more priority species in each site than available data suggest. A total of 24 terrestrial KBAs of globally significant priorities for conservation were identified within the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot of Yemen. These areas were assigned into four tiers based on a prioritization analysis of irreplaceability and vulnerability (where and when the likelihood that a site‘s biodiversity value will be lost in the future). The 24 KBAs include A single Priority 1 KBA with Critically Endangered or Endangered species that are restricted to a single site worldwide. Five Priority 2 KBAs with less-threatened single-site endemics, plus Critically Endangered/Endangered species restricted to two to -10 sites globally. 14 Priority 3 KBAs containing all less-threatened species restricted to two to 10 sites, plus all remaining Critically Endangered/Endangered species, and Four Priority 4 that include all remaining sites

KBA NumberKBA NameIBA
YEM1Hajjah Mountains
YEM2Haraz MountainsRead More
YEM3High Mountains of IbbRead More
YEM4Hujjariyah
YEM5Jabal al-Lawz - Jabal Madhbur
YEM6Jabal al-Nabi ShuaybRead More
YEM7Jabal BuraRead More
YEM8Jabal Dawran
YEM9Jabal Habashi
YEM10Jabal IrafRead More
YEM11Jabal Marran
YEM12Jabal Milhan
YEM13Jabal Raymah
YEM14Jabal Razih
YEM15Jabal Sabir
YEM16Jabal Sawraq
Jabal SumarahYEM17Read More
YEM18Kawkaban - ShibamRead More
Mafraq al-MukhaYEM19
YEM20MahwitRead More
YEM21Shaharah
YEM22Ta'izz wadisRead More
YEM23Udayn
YEM24Wadi al-BiraynRead More