Environmental change during the Quaternary period has caused changes in the composition and structure of vegetation on the Sunda shelf of Southeast Asia. Climatic conditions drier than the present, particularly during the peak of the last ice age, led to a reduction in the extent of rain forests. Most recently, there has been a close association between drought and the occurrence of major, rain forest fires. Although many rain forest trees show adaptations to periodic drought, this is not the case for frequent or intense fires. Over evolutionary time-scales, major fires may thus have been largely confined to driver vegetation types, such as monsoon and deciduous forests, and only infrequently penetrated rain forest areas. Continental-scale distribution patterns for rain forest species reveal a number of biodiversity hotspots that are consistent for a broad range of taxonomically unrelated taxa. These biodiversity hotspots account for a relatively small part of the total extent of rain forest; they may also represent ecologically relatively stable areas. This paper discusses the location and extent of biodiversity hotspots on the Sunda shelf within the context of past and present environmental change. It finds that whatever the history of biodiversity hotspots, they are increasingly threatened by contemporary environmental change, notably a trend towards increasingly frequent and intense fires. The paper concludes that the trend is likely to continue, without major changes in those activities that degrade and precondition to fire remaining areas of rain forest.
Biodiversity and Conservation – Springer Journals
Published: Sep 29, 2004
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