Endemic Bird Areas
Worldwide, the most important places for habitat-based conservation of birds are the Endemic Bird Areas – critical regions for the conservation of the world's birds and other biodiversity, that are often also particularly rich in human cultures and languages.
What is an Endemic Bird Area?
Most species on Earth are quite widespread and have large ranges. For instance, humans live on all six continents. However, a minority of the World's species have small, restricted ranges, being confined to a particular area, and they are thus said to be endemic to that area. For example, the Kagu is an extraordinary and unique rainforest bird that is endemic to the island of New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean – it is not found anywhere else.
Out of the world's 10,000 or so bird species, more than 2,500 are endemic like the Kagu, being restricted to a particularly small range – smaller than 50,000 km2. BirdLife has identified 218 regions of the world where the distributions of two or more of these restricted-range species overlap. These regions of overlap, which are relatively rich in endemic bird species compared to other parts of the world, are termed Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs).
Why are EBAs important?
The EBAs contain nearly all of the world's restricted-range bird species – only 7% of restricted-range species do not overlap with other such species and therefore do not occur in EBAs. The EBAs also support many of the world's more widespread bird species.
Half of all restricted-range species are globally threatened or near-threatened and the other half remain forever vulnerable to the loss or degradation of habitat owing to the smallness of their ranges.
The majority of EBAs are also important for the conservation of restricted-range species from other animal and plant groups. For example, there is an overlap of 70% between the location of EBAs and areas which are similarly important for endemic plants globally.
The unique landscapes where these species occur, amounting to just 4.5% of the earth's land surface, are thus priorities for broad-scale ecosystem conservation.
Key facts about EBAs
The natural habitat in most EBAs (83%) is forest, especially tropical lowland forest and moist montane forest. Altogether, remaining suitable habitat within the 218 EBAs now covers only 7,300,000 km2, a small proportion of the Earth's land area.
Geographically, EBAs are often islands or mountain ranges. EBAs vary considerably in size, from a few square kilometres (in the case of oceanic islands) to more than 100,000 km2, and in the numbers of restricted-range species that they support (from two to 80). EBAs are found around the world, but most (77%) of them are located in the tropics and subtropics. The top countries for EBAs are Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Papua New Guinea and China, all of which have more than 10 EBAs each.
What can be done next?
Habitat conservation within the EBA landscapes will always be crucial to maintaining global avian diversity, as the restricted-range bird species which characterise EBAs occur nowhere else on Earth. The conservation of a major part of the earth's terrestrial biodiversity can potentially be ensured by focusing conservation resources and actions within a relatively small total area. The EBAs of the world are clearly priorities for conservation action.
At the national level, broad habitat-based measures can and should be put at the centre of the policies and regulations that cover human use of the land, sea and atmosphere in the EBAs. Information on EBAs can be used directly in the implementation of conservation agreements, notably the Convention on Biological Diversity which among other things requires member states to officially identify and recognise important areas and ecosystems.
At the local level, by conserving representative key sites within the EBAs, action can be targeted at entire groups of species and the ecosystems upon which they depend, rather than at single species. The identification of representative sites is carried out through BirdLife's Important Bird Area (IBA) Programme.