Global hotspots of species richness are not congruent with endemism or threat


Biodiversity hotspots have a prominent role in conservation biology1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, but it remains controversial to what extent different types of hotspot are congruent4,10,11,12,13,14. Previous studies were unable to provide a general answer because they used a single biodiversity index, were geographically restricted, compared areas of unequal size or did not quantitatively compare hotspot types1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22. Here we use a new global database on the breeding distribution of all known extant bird species to test for congruence across three types of hotspot. We demonstrate that hotspots of species richness, threat and endemism do not show the same geographical distribution. Only 2.5% of hotspot areas are common to all three aspects of diversity, with over 80% of hotspots being idiosyncratic. More generally, there is a surprisingly low overall congruence of biodiversity indices, with any one index explaining less than 24% of variation in the other indices. These results suggest that, even within a single taxonomic class, different mechanisms are responsible for the origin and maintenance of different aspects of diversity. Consequently, the different types of hotspots also vary greatly in their utility as conservation tools.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Geographical distribution of three aspects of diversity.
Figure 2: Biodiversity hotspots for three aspects of diversity.
Figure 3: Extent of congruence between hotspots.


  1. 1

    Myers, N. Threatened biotas: ‘hotspots’ in tropical forests. Environmentalist 8, 187–208 (1988)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Myers, N. The biodiversity challenge: expanded hotspots analysis. Environmentalist 10, 243–256 (1990)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Bibby, C. et al. Putting Biodiversity on the Map: Priority Areas for Global Conservation (ICPB, Cambridge, UK, 1992)

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Dobson, A. P., Rodriguez, J. P., Roberts, M. W. & Wilcove, D. S. Geographic distribution of endangered species in the United States. Science 275, 550–553 (1993)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Stattersfield, A. J., Crosby, M. J., Long, A. J. & Wege, D. C. Endemic Bird Areas of the World: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation (BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK, 1998)

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Mittermeier, R. A., Myers, N., Gil, P. R. & Mittermeier, C. G. Hotspots: Earth's Biologically Richest and Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions (Cemex, Conservation International and Agrupación Sierra Madre, Monterrey, Mexico, 1999)

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Myers, N., Mittermeier, R. A., Mittermeier, C. G., da Fonseca, G. A. B. & Kent, J. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403, 853–858 (2000)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    BirdLife International, Threatened Birds of the World (Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, UK, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Mittermeier, R. A. et al. Hotspots Revisited: Earth's Biologically Richest and Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions (Cemex, Conservation International and Agrupación Sierra Madre, Monterrey, Mexico, 2005)

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Prendergast, J. R., Quinn, R. M., Lawton, J. H., Eversham, B. C. & Gibbons, D. W. Rare species, the coincidence of diversity hotspots and conservation strategies. Nature 365, 335–337 (1993)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Pressey, R. L., Humphries, C. J., Margules, C. R., Vane-Wright, R. I. & Williams, P. H. Beyond opportunism: key principles for systematic reserve selection. Trends Ecol. Evol. 8, 124–128 (1993)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Williams, P. et al. A comparison of richness hotspots, rarity hotspots, and complementary areas for conserving diversity of British birds. Conserv. Biol. 10, 155–174 (1996)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Virolainen, K. M. et al. Hot spots, indicator taxa, complementarity and optimal networks of taiga. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 267, 1143–1147 (2000)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Bonn, A., Rodriguez, A. S. L. & Gaston, K. J. Threatened and endemic species: are they good indiators of patterns of biodiversity on a national scale? Ecol. Lett. 5, 733–741 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Thomas, C. D. & Mallorie, H. C. Rarity, species richness and conservation: butterflies of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Biol. Conserv. 33, 95–117 (1985)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Berg, A. & Tjernberg, M. Common and rare Swedish vertebrates — distribution and habitat preferences. Biodivers. Conserv. 5, 101–128 (1996)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Howard, P. C. et al. Complementarity and the use of indicator groups for reserve selection in Uganda. Nature 394, 472–475 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Lawton, J. H. et al. Biodiversity inventories, indicator taxa and effects of habitat modification in tropical forest. Nature 391, 72–76 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Lennon, J. J., Koleff, P., Greenwood, J. J. D. & Gaston, K. J. Contribution of rarity and commonness to patterns of species richness. Ecol. Lett. 7, 81–87 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Jetz, W., Rahbek, C. & Colwell, R. K. The coincidence of rarity and richness and the potential signature of history in centres of endemism. Ecol. Lett. 7, 1180–1191 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Brooks, T. et al. Toward a blueprint for conservation in Africa. Bioscience 51, 613–624 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Baillie, J. E. M., Hilton-Taylor, C. & Stuart, S. N. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: A Global Species Assessment (IUCN, Glad, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK, 2004)

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Jetz, W. & Rahbek, C. Geographic range size and determinants of avian species richness. Science 297, 1548–1551 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Rahbek, C. & Graves, G. R. Multiscale assessment of patterns of avian species richness. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 98, 4534–4539 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Gaston, K. J. & Blackburn, T. M. The spatial distribution of threatened species: macro-scales and New World birds. Proc. R Soc. Lond. B 263, 235–240 (1996)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Sibley, C. G. & Monroe, B. L. Distribution and Taxonomy of the Birds of the World (Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 1990)

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Defense Mapping Agency (Mapping Agency, Fairfax, Virginia, USA, 1992).

  28. 28

    SAS (SAS Institute, Cary, North Carolina, 2001).

  29. 29

    Olson, D. M. et al. Terrestrial ecoregions of the worlds: a new map of life on Earth. Bioscience 51, 933–938 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank B. Beehler, L. Birch, T. Brooks, B. Coates, J. Cromie, J. Diamond, J. Eckstrom, S. Elsworthy, H. Fry, E. Harvey, A. Headon, P. Higgins, D. McNicol, D. Mehlman, C. Perrins, J. Price, R. Porter, H. Pratt, R. Prys-Jones, N. Redman, C. Robertson, B. Sheldon, I. Sherman, R. Simpson, I. Sinclair, A. Silcocks, M. Strange, M. Unwin, E. Urban, M. Weston, M. Whitby, P. Williams, D. Wynn, B. Young, J. Zook, A. and C. Black. We also thank Academic Press, BirdGuides, BirdLife International, Birds Australia, C. Helm, Conservation International, NatureServe, Oxford Univ. Press, the Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Princeton Univ. Press, the Alexander Library (Oxford), and the Natural History Museum (Tring) for access to data and libraries; and M. Balman, S. Butchart, T. Brooks, M. Cardillo, W. Jetz, A. Phillimore, H. Possingham, A. Purvis and W. Sechrest for comments or help. This work was funded by The Natural Environment Research Council.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ian P. F. Owens.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

Map showing the location of hotspot regions.

Supplementary Methods

Technical description of mapping methods and list of references.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Orme, C., Davies, R., Burgess, M. et al. Global hotspots of species richness are not congruent with endemism or threat. Nature 436, 1016–1019 (2005).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.