Note: We are currently updating the ecosystem profile for the Caribbean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot. Information below is based on the 2010 ecosystem profile.
The Caribbean’s biodiversity is at serious risk of species extinctions. More than 700 species are globally threatened, making the Caribbean one of the top hotspots assessed by CEPF for globally threatened species. The hotspot is considered to be of very high importance for global amphibian conservation due to the high rates of speciation and endemism, and exceptionally high levels of threat.
All of the 189 native species of amphibian in the Caribbean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot are endemic, many to single islands. The Caribbean stands out globally, with by far the highest percentage (75 percent) of threatened or extinct amphibian species of any region.
In a list of countries with the highest percentage of threatened and extinct amphibians, the top five countries are all in the 8 Caribbean. One place in particular, the Massif de la Hotte in southwest Haiti is regarded as one of the most important sites in the world for amphibian conservation as it hosts about 28 globally threatened species, many of which are restricted to this single mountain range.
Historically, the Caribbean Islands supported 92 terrestrial mammal species, of which 23 are now considered extinct. Of the 69 extant species, 51 are endemic to the hotspot and 27 species are globally threatened, which amounts to 39 percent of known mammal species.
Bats are very important components of ecosystems within the Caribbean, and are represented by 51 species, of which 35 are endemic. However, the bats are in urgent need of research focused on their distribution, ecology and current status.
More than 560 species of bird have been recorded in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot. Of these, 148 species are endemic to the hotspot with 105 of them confined to single islands. Although endemism is most notable at the species level, a remarkable 36 genera of birds are endemic to the hotspot, as well as two endemic families.
More than 120 bird species migrate from their breeding grounds in North America to winter in the Caribbean, and thus constitute a high proportion of the birds present in many habitats, especially in the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles.
At least 10 species of Caribbean birds have gone extinct during the last 500 years, including six species of Ara macaws. The Cuban macaw (Ara tricolor), the last of the six to disappear, was hunted to extinction for food and the pet trade during the second half of the 18th century.
With more than 520 native species the Caribbean islands are very rich in reptiles, the vast majority of which (95 percent) are endemic to the region. Two of the smallest lizards in the world can be found in the Caribbean: Sphaerodactylus ariasae from the Dominican Republic and S. parthenopion from the U.S. Virgin Islands. The world’s smallest snake—Leptotyphlops carlae—was recently discovered in Barbados. Four sea turtle species nest in the Caribbean, too.
A very large number of highly restricted-range reptiles occur in the Caribbean, many of which will probably qualify as globally threatened once assessed.
The Caribbean Islands Hotspot is home to 1,447 native genera and about 11,000 native species of seed plants (Cycadopsida, Coniferopsida, Magnoliopsida and Liliopsida). Generic endemism is especially noteworthy, with about 13.2 percent comprising 191 genera that are endemic or nearly so, to the region. There are 7,868 native species of seed plants endemic to the Caribbean Hotspot, amounting to about 72 percent species’ endemism for region overall. These figures make the Caribbean very important for plant conservation, particularly in view of the hotspot’s relatively small size in comparison to other hotspots.
The hotspot supports 167 species of freshwater fish, about 65 of which are endemic to one or a few islands, and many of these to just a single lake or springhead. As in other island hotspots, there are two distinct groups of freshwater fishes in the Caribbean. On smaller and younger islands, most fish are species that are widespread in marine waters but also enter freshwater to some degree. On the larger and older islands of the Greater Antilles, there are several groups that occupy inland waters, including gars, killifishes, silversides and cichlids.
Read more about the hotspot's species in our ecosystem profile (PDF - 1.63 MB), also available in French (PDF - 2.6 MB) and Spanish (PDF - 2.6 MB). An updated version of the ecosystem profile will be published in 2018.