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Biodiversity: West Asia


The region has wide variations in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Main terrestrial habitats include Mediterranean forests, rangelands and deserts. Marine ecosystems include mudflats, mangrove swamps, sea grass and coral reefs. Rivers in the Mashriq and springs in the whole region represent freshwater ecosystems.

The estimated number of endemic vascular species in the region is 800 (Batanouny 1996), and in some hot spots such as the Socotra Islands of Yemen, 34 per cent of the total number of vascular plants are endemic (Al-Saghier 2000, Government of Yemen 2000). There are seven endemic mammal species and ten endemic birds (UNDP, UNEP, World Bank and WRI 1998).

The seas are rich in species diversity with 200 species of crabs, 20 species of marine mammals and more than 1 200 species of fish and more than 330 species of corals in the Red Sea and the Gulf (Fouda, Hermosa and Al-Harthi 1998). More than 11 per cent of the corals are endemic to the Arabian Peninsula sub-region (Sheppard, Price and Roberts 1992). There are up to 12 000 marine species in the Mediterranean, representing 8-9 per cent of the world sea species richness (Bianchi, Dore and Morri 1995). Substantial numbers of vertebrates are threatened with extinction in the region (see bar chart).

Habitat destruction and fragmentation have increased dramatically in most countries over the past three decades due to human population and resource consumption growth. Degradation of unique terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and loss of genetic resources are the main biodiversity issues in West Asia. Water resource management and the maintenance of inland water biodiversity, as well as overhunting of large mammals and birds, are therefore among the most important issues affecting biodiversity in the region.