The Mediterranean Basin has experienced intensive human development and impact on its ecosystems for thousands of years, significantly longer than any other hotspot. Human settlements of various forms have existed in the area for at least 8,000 years. The greatest impacts of human civilization have been deforestation, intensive grazing and fires, and infrastructure development, especially on the coast. Historically, Mediterranean forests were burned to create agricultural lands and intensification has especially affected European countries. The agricultural lands, evergreen woodlands and maquis habitats that dominate the hotspot today are the result of these anthropogenic disturbances over several millennia. Paradoxically, grazing and fire can maintain species richness, while in their absence, closed forests are often less diverse.
There are now roughly 300 million people living in the Mediterranean Basin. In Northern Africa, rapid population growth and the spread of mechanized agriculture have driven the replacement of biodiversity-friendly means of cultivation with more intensive land management systems. Water shortages and desertification are serious problems in this area. An increased demand from northern Europe for products such as strawberries and carnations year-round is further intensifying agriculture.
Habitat fragmentation is a serious problem in the hotspot; what original vegetation does remain exists in small scattered patches. Furthermore, many of the endemic plant species in the basin are narrow endemics: they are confined to very small areas, in some cases individual rock outcrops, and thus are extremely vulnerable to habitat loss, overgrazing, and urban expansion. Indeed, it is likely that more plant species have gone extinct here than in any other hotspot.
Tourism development has placed significant pressure on the region's coastal ecosystems. The shores of the Mediterranean are the biggest large-scale tourist attraction in the world, with 110 million visitors arriving per year, a figure that is expected to double in the next two decades. The construction of infrastructure and the direct impacts of people using and trampling sensitive dune ecosystems remains a key threat to coastal areas in Turkey, Cyprus, Tunisia, Morocco, and Greece, as well as smaller Mediterranean Islands such as the Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, and the Canary and Madeira Islands.
Today, a mere five percent of the original extent of the hotspot contains relatively intact vegetation, placing the Mediterranean Basin among the four most significantly altered hotspots on Earth.