Geographic Patterns

Diversity

Global patterns of amphibian diversity are shown in Figure 2. This diversity map clearly shows certain areas of high global diversity, including tropical South America and tropical West Africa. In contrast to the usual pattern of high species diversity occurring in the tropics, the southeastern United States is a global center for amphibian diversity, being particularly rich in salamanders. However, the problem of uneven survey efforts around the world complicates interpretation of this map. Regions such as Indonesia, New Guinea and the Congo Basin are especially likely to be under represented on this map due to lack of adequate surveys.

Biodiversity worldwide
Figure 2. Global diversity of amphibian species.

 

Looking at amphibian diversity from a country perspective, Brazil, with at least 798 species, has the greatest number of amphibians of any country on Earth, followed by Colombia. Table 3 lists the 20 most diverse countries and reveals some interesting findings, although, these results must be considered in relation to the level of survey effort. Both Colombia and Brazil have received extensive survey efforts in recent decades, and although both countries can be expected to add significantly to their totals, the level of increase is likely to be less than in some of the other highly diverse countries. In South America, Peru in particular is relatively poorly sampled and is almost certain to rise very substantially in its species total, and can be predicted to pass the level of Ecuador before too long. However, the diversity in Ecuador is remarkable for such a small country.

RANK COUNTRY TOTAL SPECIES
1 Brazil 798
2 Colombia 714
3 Ecuador 467
4 Peru 461
5 Mexico 364
6 Indonesia 363
7 China1 333
8 Venezuela 311
9 United States 272
10 Papua New Guinea 376
11 India 252
12 Madagascar 242
13 Bolivia 230
14 Australia 223
15 Congo, D.R. 215
16 Malaysia 212
17 Cameron 199
18 Panama 197
19 Costa Rica 186
20 Tanzania 178
1The numbers given here for China include the provinces of Hong Kong and Macau, but do not include the province of Taiwan which is listed separately due to its geographic separation from the mainland.
Table 3. Countries with most amphibian species.

Among the Old World countries, the level of survey effort is often much lower than in the Americas. Indonesia can be predicted to be the richest country outside the Americas, but it is doubtful if even half of its species are yet known. It may end up with a level of diversity comparable with Brazil and Colombia. Very large increases in species totals can also be predicted for Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the latter country having received almost no amphibian survey work in the last 40 years.

Countries that are not far behind that are set to pass the 200 species mark include Cameroon, Panama, Costa Rica and Tanzania. The United States of America and Australia can be predicted to fall down the ranking over time, though the former will remain the most important country for salamanders, with the possible exception of Mexico.

To view a summary of the data for all countries click here.

Geography of Threatened Species

A map showing the global distribution of threatened amphibians (Figure 3) reveals patterns very different from depictions of overall species diversity. The greatest concentration of such species – including well over half of the currently known threatened amphibians—is in a relatively limited area running from southern Mexico south to Ecuador and Venezuela, and in the Greater Antilles (details in Figure 4). This region is dominated by species with small ranges, often living in montane areas. Many of these species have been subjected to severe habitat loss, and exposure to the fungal disease chytridiomycosis.

Threatened amphibian species worldwide
Figure 3. Global distribution of threatened amphibians.

 

Other important concentrations of threatened species are in the Atlantic Forests of southern Brazil (Figure 5), the Upper Guinea forests of western Africa, the forests of western Cameroon and eastern Nigeria (Figure 6), the Albertine Rift of eastern central Africa, the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania (Figure 7), Madagascar (details shown in Figure 7), the Western Ghats of India, Sri Lanka (Figure 8), central and southern China, Borneo (Figure 9), the Philippines (Figure 9) and eastern Australia.

 

Distribution of threatened amphibians in Central America, northern South America, and the Caribbean
Figure 4. Distribution of threatened amphibians in Central America, northern South America, and the Caribbean.

 

Distribution of threatened amphibians in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil
Figure 5. Distribution of threatened amphibians in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.

 

Distribution of threatened amphibians in Cameroon and West Africa
Figure 6. Distribution of threatened amphibians in Cameroon and West Africa.

 

Distribution of threatened amphibians in Madagascar and eastern Africa
Figure 7. Distribution of threatened amphibians in Madagascar and eastern Africa.

 

The distribution of threatened amphibians in southern India and Sri Lanka
Figure 8. The distribution of threatened amphibians in southern India and Sri Lanka.

 

The distribution of threatened amphibians in Borneo and the Philippines
Figure 9. The distribution of threatened amphibians in Borneo and the Philippines.

 

Table 4 lists the 20 countries with the highest number of threatened amphibians. These countries are in many cases different to those listed in Table 3, suggesting that either amphibians in some countries are more susceptible to threats, that threats vary between countries, or that there are other factors influencing the distribution of threatened species.

RANK COUNTRY TOTAL SPECIES
1 Colombia 214
2 Mexico 211
3 Ecuador 171
4 Brazil* 116
5 Peru 96
6 China1 92
7 Guatemala 80
8 Venezuela 72
9 India 65
10 Madagascar 64
=11 Costa Rica 59
=11 Honduras 59
13 United States of America 56
=14 Cameroon 53
=14 Sri Lanka 53
16 Tanzania 50
=17 Panama 49
=17 Cuba 49
=19 Australia 48
=19 Phillipines 48
1The numbers given here for China include the provinces of Hong Kong and Macau, but do not include the province of Taiwan which is listed separately due to its geographic separation from the mainland.
Table 4. Countries with most threatened amphibians.

 

The countries listed in Table 4 have a particularly great responsibility for protecting the world's threatened amphibians. Colombia, the second most diverse country, has the highest number of threatened species. The major threats to amphibians in Colombia are habitat loss although there have been many as yet unexplained declines also occurring, and the dramatic topography of the Andes means that many of the amphibians have very restricted ranges making them more vulnerable to threatening processes. Brazil, the most diverse country, is ranked only fourth for number of species threatened, most of which are in the Atlantic Forest region, and has a significantly lower percentage of its amphibians threatened than the global average * (see note below).

In the above table only the number of threatened species is given, and the number of extinct species has been excluded. This is to highlight those countries that currently have the greatest responsibility towards protecting threatened species. If we also take in to consideration extinct species, Sri Lanka, with 21 Extinct species, would jump from being 14th on the list to 8th, behind only countries with much greater amphibian diversity. Sri Lanka is only the 28th most diverse country for amphibians.

Considering the percentage of a country's amphibian fauna that is threatened or extinct provides a stark contrast to the previous table, which focuses on the number of threatened species. Table 5 lists the countries with the highest percentage of threatened or extinct amphibians.

 

RANK COUNTRY % THREATENED OR EXTINCT
1 Haiti 92.0
2 Dominican Republic 83.3
3 Jamaica 81.0
4 Cuba 80.3
5 Puerto Rico 73.7
6 Sri Lanka 70.5
7 Mexico 58.0
8 Guatemala 57.1
9 Seychelles 54.5
10 Honduras 48.8
11 Phillipines 48.0
12 Ecuador 37.0
13 Chile 36.2
14 japan 35.7
15 Turkey 34.5
16 Costa Rica 33.3
17 El Salvador 31.3
18 Cololmbia 30.0
19 Taiwan, Province of China 29.4
20 Tanzania 28.1
Note: only countries with 10 or more species are included.
Table 5. Countries with the highest percentage of threatened (including extinct) amphibians.

 

The top five countries are all in the Caribbean, and at least 70% of all the amphibians in these countries are threatened (no species are listed as Extinct for these five countries at present). Compared with other regions, the Caribbean stands out with by far the highest percentage of threatened or extinct species. This is mostly a result of extensive habitat loss as well as some incidents of disease, in particular in Puerto Rico.

In Mexico, ranked fifth for diversity, but second for the number of threatened species, more than 50% of amphibians are threatened (no species are considered Extinct at present). Severe habitat loss as well as disease outbreak in some regions are the main threats. Most of the other countries in Table 5 are in Central or South America. The main causes of threat here also being disease and habitat loss.

Sri Lanka is the highest ranked country outside of Central or South America with over 70% of species in this country either threatened or extinct. Habitat loss is the primary cause and has already resulted in the extinction of 21 species, the highest number recorded for any country.

To view a summary of the data for all countries click here.

* It should be noted that for certain species endemic to Brazil, it has not yet been possible to reach agreement on the IUCN Red List Categories between the Coordinating Team for amphibians, and the experts on the species in Brazil. The IUCN Red List Categories displayed for individual species are those that were agreed at the GAA Brazil workshop in April 2003. However, in the subsequent consistency check conducted by the GAA Coordinating Team, many of these were found to be inconsistent with the approach adopted elsewhere in the world. Under the notes on IUCN Red Listing for each species, the likely consistent IUCN Red List Category is given for these species, and it is these consistent IUCN Red List Categories that are used in the analyses presented here.

Patterns of Endemism

The number and percentage of endemic amphibians by country shows some important patterns. Table 6 lists the 20 countries with the largest numbers of endemic species (i.e., occurring in no other countries), while Table 7 lists the twenty countries with the highest percentage of endemism.

 

RANK COUNTRY COUNTRY ENDEMICS
1 Brazil 534
2 Colombia 349
3 Mexico 246
4 Madagascar 241
5 Peru 224
6 China1 217
7 Australia 209
8 United States of America 190
9 Papua New Guinea 187
10 Indonesia 175
11 Venezuela 172
12 Ecuador 171
13 India 167
14 Sri lanka 89
15 Phillipines 79
16 Tanzania 78
17 Bolivia 72
18 Malaysia 63
19 Cuba 59
20 Cameroon 58
1The numbers given here for China include the provinces of Hong Kong and Macau, but do not include the province of Taiwan which is listed separately due to its geographic separation from the mainland.
Table 6. Countries with the most endemics.

 

RANK COUNTRY % ENDEMICS
1 Jamaica 100.0
2 Seychelles 100.0
3 São Tomé and Príncipe 100.0
4 New Zealand 100.0
5 Fiji 100.0
6 Palau 100.0
7 Madagascar 99.6
8 Cuba 96.7
9 Australia 93.7
10 Sri Lanka 84.8
11 Japan 80.4
12 Phillipines 79.0
13 Puerto Rico 78.9
14 Chile 70.7
15 Papua new Guinea 70.3
16 United States of America 69.9
17 Mexico 67.6
18 Brazil 66.9
19 India 66.3
20 China1 65.2
1The numbers given here for China include the provinces of Hong Kong and Macau, but do not include the province of Taiwan which is listed separately due to its geographic separation from the mainland.
Table 7. Countries with the highest percentage of endemics.

 

To a considerable extent, the countries with the largest number of endemic species (Table 6) match those with the largest total diversity of species (Table 3), which is not surprising. However, it is noteworthy that several island countries that do not appear in Table 3 do appear in Table 6: Sri Lanka; the Philippines; and Cuba. Brazil and Colombia have many more endemics than any other countries, with Mexico, Madagascar, Peru, China and Australia each having 200 or more endemics.

The percentage of endemism (Table 7) shows a very different pattern, with six island countries each having 100% endemism (none of these with very diverse amphibian faunas). Of the countries with high amphibian diversity (Table 3), Madagascar and Australia (both essentially very large islands) stand out with by far the highest levels of endemism.

To view a summary of the data for all countries click here.

In Figure 10 a preliminary look at Endemic Amphibian Areas is provided. This map is based on the same approach adopted by BirdLife International in defining Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs). We define an Endemic Amphibian Area as any place where at least two species with ranges of less than 50,000 km2 overlap. About 65% of amphibians have ranges of less than 50,000 km2.

Endemic Amphibian Areas
Figure 10. Endemic Amphibian Areas.

Figure 10 looks remarkably similar to the global map of Endemic Bird Areas (and shows a high degree of congruence with other priority-setting mechanisms such as Conservation International's Hotspots). Clearly, amphibians with small ranges are concentrated in generally the same areas as birds. These fundamental patterns are key to guiding the development of conservation strategies in the future. A few differences are apparent, though, the most notable being the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States of America, which are the world's center of salamander diversity and endemism, and are also extremely rich in other aquatic life forms, such as freshwater fishes, turtles, mussels, and crayfishes.

Our analysis of Endemic Amphibian Areas includes Data Deficient species, which arguably should have been omitted, since these include a number of species currently known only from their type localities, but which may be more widespread. We suspect that if these Data Deficient species are removed, some of the Endemic Amphibian Areas in places such as the Amazon and Congo basins would disappear, resulting in a map even more similar to that of Endemic Bird Areas.