International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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Challenges of Biodiversity in the Arab World

Mohammed Messouli
UCAM- FS Semlalia, Département de Biologie, LHEA, BP 2390 Marrakech, Morocco


Human alteration of the global environment has become one of the most important drivers shaping the regional and local patterns of biodiversity. Despite of numerous studies of the effects of local-scale changes in land use on biodiversity, broader continental analyses are still largely absent. Currently we attempt to identify large-scale biodiversity drivers and indicators in the Arab world.

Biodiversity has been the source of nearly all our food supplies and medicines, and hence the advent of modern civilization. It is a natural heritage, which is the source of multiple aesthetic, spiritual, cultural, and recreational values. It supports a wide array of ecosystem services on which human societies depend often indirectly, and for which technological substitutes will be increasingly difficult and costly. The scientific challenges of biodiversity are enormous. In spite of being limited in terms of species richness, biodiversity in the Arab Region has exceptional value when considering the variability of ecological, chemical and genetic characters of the species “intraspecific diversity” which provides a wealthy stock of biological resources that can be utilized through biotechnology techniques to serve agricultural, medicinal and industrial purposes.

Our study shows, based on existing data, that natural drivers and habitat loss are responsible for large-scale biodiversity variation, while the effect of land-use intensity may become evident on a smaller scale. Protected areas have resulted in higher biodiversity. The subterranean biodiversity (troglobites and stygobites) is evaluated for the first time here.
The effect of natural drivers overwhelmed that of anthropogenic ones – biodiversity increased towards the north and the west. Habitat loss was the main anthropogenic driver – richness of birds and reptiles increased with an increasing share of forested land, and richness of plants and mammals decreased with an increasing share of rotational agricultural areas. A higher percentage of protected areas resulted in higher biodiversity. Plant richness was the best predictor of mammal and reptile diversity, but this relationship was region-specific. The constraints for the conservation and protection of biodiversity and habitats include; water scarcity, land degradation, poverty, weak enforcement of regulations and conventions, and lack of financial resources in most countries. In terms of achievements, there are ongoing schemes of establishing protected areas and biospheres in most countries of the region.

Biodiversity science has traditionally been dispersed and undervalued. In order to make it progress, there is an obvious need for integration of the various approaches and disciplines: we need unity in diversity. We also need a major research effort of the size of the space exploration programs for the exploration of the Earth’s biodiversity, the causes and consequences of its loss, and the best means to conserve and use it. Lastly, the Arab scientific community should learn to speak with a single voice, and promote the establishment of an international mechanism with a view to providing scientifically validated information on biodiversity to policy makers, governments and international conventions.

Keywords: biodiversity, drivers, indicators, Arab World, threats, ecosystem services, valuation, policy