Ecoregions

Since the 1980s, there has been an increasing tendency to map biodiversity over ecoregions.

An ecoregion is "a relatively large unit of land or water containing a geographically distinct assemblage of species, natural communities, and environmental conditions" (WWF, 1999). Several standard methods of classifying ecore-gions have been developed, with climate, altitude, and predominant vegetation being important criteria (Stein et al., 2000). Ecoregions may be relatively small (for example, the Crete Mediterranean forest ecoregion, covering about 8,000 square kilometers), or they may cover entire landscapes (for example, the east Siberian taiga, covering almost 4 million square kilometers).

Ecoregions are based on a comprehensive account of the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystems they comprise. Therefore, they represent important units on which to base conservation planning. Conservation biologists have identified several ecoregions

A male poison arrow frog calling. The poisonous secretions of these Central and South American frogs, long used to produce poisonous arrows, are being investigated for possible use as a painkiller. (Michael and Patricia Fogden/Corbis)

that have high levels of species richness or endemism, contain unique or rare habitats, or show some other unusual ecological or evolutionary characteristic. The large geographic size of ecoregions means that they can provide the basis for developing extensive regional conservation programs. Indigenous human cultures may also be associated with ecore-gions, with local communities relying on a variety of the natural resources for food, shelter, medicines, or other extrinsic purposes such as spiritual and cultural traditions. Therefore, the conservation management of these ecore-gions is usually planned with the involvement of these local communities.

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