Biodiversity Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Dr Jann Williams, RMIT University, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06749 3

The Meaning, Significance and Implications of Biodiversity (continued)

Megadiverse countries

Australia is identified as a megadiverse country. The concept of megadiversity is based on the total number of species in a country and the degree of endemism at the species level and at higher taxonomic levels. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre recognised 17 megadiverse countries in July 2000 including Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (formerly Zaire), Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, the United States of America (USA) and Venezuela. Together, these 17 countries harbour more than 70% of the earth's species (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Number of endemic vascular plant species in 17 megadiverse countries illustrating that Australia has the fifth highest number of species in this group.
PNG, Papua New Guinea; DRC, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 Number of endemic vascular plant species in 17 megadiverse countries illustrating that Australia has the fifth highest number of species in this group

Source: Conservation International (2000)

Of countries containing large endowments of biodiversity, Australia is unique in another, very significant way. Of all the countries classified as megadiverse, Australia is one of only two countries in the high income category (Table 1). Australia as a richer, healthier, better educated country with a more developed economy is better positioned to deal with problems of environment and development than all but one other megadiverse nation - the USA. This position carries a special responsibility and implies that a high standard of biodiversity protection can be expected in Australia. It also carries with it an opportunity for world leadership.