DIVERSITY & ENDEMISM
Like other Mediterranean-type ecosystems, the Mediterranean Basin has high levels of plant diversity and endemism but relatively poor representation of mammals and birds compared to other hotspots. The mammal and bird faunas are largely derived from extra-Mediterranean biogeographical zones, with Eurasian and African elements dominating the mammal fauna, whereas Eurasian and semi-arid southern elements dominate the avifauna. The North African mammal fauna has closer affinities with tropical Africa than with the Mediterranean Basin. On the other hand, the reptile and amphibian faunas comprise mainly Mediterranean species, and have higher levels of endemism.
Of the 22,500 species of vascular plants in this hotspot, approximately 11,700 (52 percent) are found nowhere else in the world. The endemics are mainly concentrated on islands, peninsulas, rocky cliffs, and mountain peaks. Endemism at the higher level is very reduced, with only two endemic families (Aphyllanthaceae and Drosophyllaceae), both represented by single species, Aphyllanthes monspeliensis and Drosophyllum lusitanicum.
The Mediterranean Region harbors a high degree of tree richness and endemism (290 indigenous tree species with 201 endemics). A number of trees are important flagships, including the cedars (such as the famous cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani, which has been exploited since the rise of civilization in the Fertile Crescent); the argan tree (Argania spinosa), a species in the Souss region of southwest Morocco; oriental sweet gum (Liquidambar orientalis); and Cretan date palm (Phoenix theophrasti) in Greece and western Turkey. The only palm native to the Mediterranean, Phoenix theophrasti, is found in a tiny part of Crete and on Turkey's Datca Peninsula, two areas of the Mediterranean Basin experiencing substantial tourism development.
The principal foci in the Mediterranean are 10 regional mini-hotspots within the larger hotspot, characterized by areas of high plant richness and narrow endemism of more than 10 percent: the Atlas Mountains in North Africa; the Rif-Betique range in southern Spain and two coastal strips of Morocco and Algeria; Maritime and Ligurian Alps of the French-Italian border; Tyrrhenian Islands; southern and central Greece; Crete; southern Turkey/Cyprus; Israel and Lebanon; Cyrenaica in Libya; and the Canary/Madeira Islands. These 10 areas cover about 22 percent of the Basin's total area, yet account for almost 5,500 endemic plants, i.e., about 47 percent of total Mediterranean endemics.
A total of nearly 500 bird species are found in the Mediterranean Basin hotspot, and many more migrate through the region, crossing the Mediterranean at Gibraltar, Sicily, the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Crete, and Cyprus. About 25 of these species are endemic, and several are threatened, including: the Spanish Imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti, EN), thought to number around 350 mature individuals, Raso Island lark (Alauda razae, CR), which occurs only on the uninhabited Raso Island in the Cape Verdes; Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus, CR), which breeds in the Balearic Islands; and the Madeira or Zino’s petrel (Pterodroma madeira, CR), which has an estimated breeding population of 20-30 pairs in the central mountain massif of Madeira.
The destruction and degradation of Mediterranean wetlands threaten widespread species occurring in the hotspot such as the Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus, VU), which winters in the eastern parts of the hotspot, marbled teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris, VU) and ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca). These wetlands are also important for wintering and migrating species like the slender-billed curlew (Numenius tenuirostris, CR), which travels between Africa and its Siberian breeding grounds each year.
Portions of the hotspot also appear as priorities in BirdLife International's global analysis of Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs), namely Cyprus, Madeira, and the Canary Islands, and Cape Verde. The Canary Islands and Madeira are home to eight endemic species, including three Columba pigeons: the white-tailed laurel pigeon (C. junoniae, EN), dark-tailed laurel pigeon (C. bolli), and Madeira laurel pigeon (C. trocaz).
The Mediterranean Basin hotpsot is the home of more than 220 terrestrial mammal species, of which 25 are endemic (11 percent). A number of large mammal species, like the lion (Panthera leo, VU) and the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammahI, EW), have been extirpated from the region in the last few thousand years as the result of human habitat alteration and hunting pressure.
Among notable flagship species are the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus, CR), of which less than 400 individuals remain in the wild; the Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus, VU), the only native monkey known from Europe confined to several small, disparate fragments of habitat in the mountain ranges of Morocco and Algeria and on the island of Gibraltar; the Barbary deer (Cervus elaphus barbarus), represented by a few hundred individuals in a small forest on the Algerian/Tunisian border; and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus, CR), the most threatened felid in the world with no more than 250 individuals remaining in the wild.
There are more than 225 reptile species in the Mediterranean hotspot, nearly 80 (34 percent) of which are endemic. There are also four endemic genera, namely Algyroides, Trogonophis, Macroscincus, and >Gallotia (the last being a genus of lizard unique to the Canary Islands).
The family Lacertidae, characterized by small, long-tailed lizards, is represented in the hotspot by more than 60 species, a quarter of the world total, and the family Viperidae, stocky venomous snakes, is represented by nearly 20 species. The family Testudinidae is represented by five tortoises: spur-thigh or Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca, VU); Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni); marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata); the Endangered Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni, CR), and Weissinger's tortoise (Testudo weissingeri), an endemic species.
There are nearly 80 amphibian species in the Mediterranean Basin hotspot; nearly 30 of these are endemic (31 percent). The hotspot is a center of endemism for two amphibian families: the Discoglossidae and the Salamandridae. Eleven of the world's 12 recognized species of disc-tongued frogs (Discoglossidae) are found here, seven of which are endemic. The Palestinian painted frog or Hula painted frog, (Discoglossus nigriventer, EX), known from Israel, has not been recorded since 1955, although there are recent tantalizing reports of the species having been seen in Lebanon. The hotspot's 23 species of Salamandridae account for over a third of the world's representatives from this family. The fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) is one of the largest salamanders in the world; its range includes most of Europe, a portion of North Africa, and the Mediterranean Middle East. Of the 17 species of threatened amphibians present in the hotspot, the most threatened is probably Rana holtzi (CR), which is endemic to two lakes (Karagol and Cinegol), no more than 500 meters apart, in the Taurus Range in Turkey.
The freshwater fishes of the Mediterranean basin are small subsets of the rich Eurasian and African fish faunas from which they are isolated. Although there are only less than 220 species, more than 60 are endemic, including six endemic genera. There is also one endemic family, Valenciidae, the tooth carps of the Iberian and Greek peninsulas. These two peninsulas contain about 86 percent of the entire hotspot's endemic fishes.