In daily conversation, “hot-spot” refers figuratively to a place where a particular activity, danger or other phenomenon peaks. To connect to the internet in town, find a wi-fi hot-spot. Scientists have adopted this evocative phrase in various guises. To a geologist, a hot-spot is a region where volcanoes are common, for instance. Maps of hotspots are often used to help prioritise relevant activities. So, crime hot-spots are areas within which we might expect the police to be particularly vigilant. Biodiversity hot-spots are therefore used and keenly debated by conservationists.
To conserve hot-spots, we need to know at various map scales where, precisely, they are. We particularly need maps at a scale where management is practical. There’s limited value in stating only that “the Andes” or “Japan” is a hot-spot, even if global conservation agencies can use this information to apportion global funds. This global scale is in fact the only level for which biodiversity hotspots are well publicised, but these are certainly not areas where conservation plans can be focused and manageable. Conscientious developers cannot use this information to plan more sustainable developments, for instance. Also, the list of hot-spots even at the global scale is not yet exhaustive.
We need biodversity hotspot maps at local to regional levels, so how should we calibrate the standard “biodiversity thermometer” and ensure that it can be used at various scales? What is it about biodiversity that is at particularly high levels in the hot-spots exactly? Different scientists interpret the concept of biodiversity hotspot slightly differently. Some include threats to the habitat in the equation; some count species, others count only species unique to the region in question, and so on.
We have over the last 20 years been using and developing a standardised biodiversity thermometer for hotspot detection. Our thermometer measures an attribute we call bioquality on an index we call the Genetic Heat Index (GHI). The GHI can be applied consistently at all scales. Using this, and standardised sampling methods, we are making systematic measurements of GHI around the world, mapping global bioquality at all scales. We also aim to make such thermometers – i.e. sampling and measuring tools – more widely available. Gradually, the global and local pattern of hot-spots should emerge, allowing resolution of hot areas even on the scale of your own back garden, and potentially measurable by you, armed only with a field-guide and some standardised guidance. This will give us a means to monitor impacts on biodiversity at a practical level, and this is one or the research goals that IHG is helping us achieve.
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