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Keywords:

  • Biodiversity hotspots;
  • climate change;
  • endemic–area relationship;
  • endemic species;
  • islands;
  • sea level rise

Abstract

Aim

Despite considerable attention to climate change, no global assessment of the consequences of sea level rise is available for insular ecosystems. Yet, over 180,000 islands world-wide contain 20% of the world's biodiversity. We investigated the consequences of sea level rise for the 10 insular biodiversity hotspots world-wide and their endemic species. This assessment is crucial to identify areas with the highest risk of inundation and the number of endemic species at risk of potential extinction.

Location

Ten insular biodiversity hotspots including the Caribbean islands, the Japanese islands, the Philippines, the East Melanesian islands, Polynesia-Micronesia, Sundaland, Wallacea, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands (i.e. 4447 islands).

Methods

We investigated four scenarios of projected sea level rise (1, 2, 3 and 6 m) on these islands. For each scenario, we assessed the number of islands that would be entirely and partially submerged by overlying precise digital elevation model and island data. We estimated the number of endemic species for each taxon (i.e. plants, birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians and fishes) potentially affected by insular habitat submersion using the endemic–area relationship.

Results

Between 6 and 19% of the 4447 islands would be entirely submerged under considered scenarios (1–6 m of sea level rise). Three hotspots displayed the most significant loss of insular habitat: the Caribbean islands, the Philippines and Sundaland, representing a potential threat for 300 endemic species.

Main conclusions

With the current estimates of global sea level rise of at least 1 m by 2100, large parts of ecosystems of low-lying islands are at high risk of becoming submerged, leading to significant habitat loss world-wide. Therefore, the threat posed by sea level rise requires specific policies that prioritize insular biota on islands at risk as a result of near future sea level rise.