About UNEP UNEP Offices News Centre Publications Events Awards Milestones UNEP Store
UNEP Website GEO Home Page

Biodiversity: Asia and the Pacific

Species diversity in the region is extremely high. Indonesia is thought to support more species, with more endemic species, than any other country in the world, closely followed by several others, including Australia and China (Groombridge 2000). The tropical waters around the Indo-Australasian archipelago are the world's centre of diversity for a wide range of marine groups, including corals, coral reef fishes and mangroves (Groombridge 2000). Rangelands in western parts of the region, the Tibet plateau and Australia are particularly rich in lizards and snakes adapted to arid conditions (Anderson 1963, Cogger 1992, Zhao and Adler 1993). Many of the rivers and freshwater lakes hold endemic species of fish and aquatic invertebrates (Kottelat and Whitten 1996).

New species in Viet Nam
Two large mammals previously unknown to science have been discovered in one small area, the Vu Quang Nature Reserve in Truong Son, Viet Nam. The Vu Quang ox (Pseudoryx nghetinensis) was first described in 1993, followed a couple of years later by a giant muntjac deer (Megamuntiacus vuquangensis) from the same area. The ox is of particular interest because it does not appear to fit neatly in any of the main bovid groups as currently recognized. It is now known to occur in adjacent parts of Laos. Other new species have also been found, including the world's smallest muntjac deer, the Truong Son muntjac (Muntiacus truongsonensis).
Source: Dung and others 1993

Numbers of threatened vertebrates: Asia and the Pacific

Note: critically endangered (extremely high risk of extinction in immediate future); endangered (very high risk of extinction in near future); vulnerable (high risk of extinction in medium-term future)

The data include all globally threatened vertebrate species with country records in the UNEP-WCMC database (UNEPWCMC 2001a). Marine species recorded by ocean area are not included

The larger islands are home to a wide range of endemic species while the continental areas often have high species richness together with high rates of endemism. Such 'hot spots' can be identified at a range of scales, from individual mountains to extensive hill ranges. The entire Hindu Kush- Himalayan belt has as many as 25 000 plant species, comprising 10 per cent of the world's flora (Shengji 1998). A few such areas remain relatively unknown: remarkably, even new large mammal species have recently been described in Viet Nam and Laos (see box).

Biological resources have long been of subsistence importance, and have been increasingly exploited for trade. At the global level, around three-quarters of known or suspected species extinctions have occurred on isolated islands (WCMC 1992), many of which were molluscs and birds from the Asia-Pacific region. Some 1 469 vertebrate species in the region are currently considered to be threatened with extinction (see bar chart above). Habitat loss is the principal factor that fragments natural populations and increases their risk of extinction but this often acts in synergy with other pressures such as alien species and unsustainable harvesting (Eder 1996, NBSAP 2000, NIES 1997).