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Biodiversity hotspot case study: Mesoamerica

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Video transcript

- My name is Frank Almeda, senior curator of botany at the California Academy of Sciences. South America was once an island, sort of like Australia is today. And, about three million years ago, it rafted north and connected with the Meso Region via the Panama Canal area. It has a big mountainous spine that runs through the center from central Panama all the way up to Mexico. What you have is things that have migrated and evolved on the mountain peaks. And then things in the lowlands are actually like corridors. So, those have been sort of the passageways for species coming from the north and those coming from the south. So, that makes it extremely interesting. It's not just been there as an isolated landmass that organisms have migrated to. But it's a convergence. That area today, when you look at just the numbers of plant species, it has about 17,000 plant species. And about 20% of those occur only in that region. I study a particular family of plants called princess flowers. They're a very large family. I've been interested in why the family is so large. Some of these are very, very local. They occur on just a single mountaintop or a single mountain slope. Many of them are very much endangered. Mesoamerica supremely qualifies as one of those hotspots, because it's been estimated that approximately 80% of natural vegetation has been either destroyed or highly modified over the past several decades. I think we have an obligation now to go to these countries and to work with scientists there. To collaborate with them. And to also do teaching and workshops on the ground in these countries. So that local people, students in training, people interested in conservation, even government officials understand the value of their natural resources and why it's important to preserve them.