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Why is the Philippines rich in biodiversity?

Source:  Copyright 2006, ABS-CBN
Date:  July 22, 2006
Original URL: Status DEAD

Did you know that the forest trees in Mount Makiling, Laguna, are far more diverse than those in the entire United States? Or that the Philippines has more endemic or native birds than the whole of Europe?

It is amazing indeed that a country so small, with a total land area of 30 million hectares and a total coastline of 18,000 kilometers, can be a world showcase in biological diversity. According to Dr. Corazon Sinha and Dr. Lawrence Heaney, authors of the book Philippine Biodiversity: Principles and Practice, recently published by Haribon, "There are many reasons why the Philippines is both high in species richness and endemism." The reasons are as follow:

First, the country is located near the equator or in the tropical region. Countries in the tropics are blessed with good climate that makes them ideal places for life to flourish. Its foggy, mossy and verdant mountains, as well as its warm and shallow waters host a remarkably large number of diverse and unique species found nowhere else on earth.

Second, the Philippines is an archipelago of many islands. Its more than 7,000 islands have remarkable landscapes and seascapes of ancient geological origins. It has many ecosystems ranging from forests to freshwater to coral reefs. They all serve as suitable homes for enormous varieties of plants and animals.

Third, according to Dr. Heaney, "the ancient geological history of the Philippines contributed significantly to its high biodiversity and endemicity." The Philippines that we have today was a product of the rise and fall of the sea level, and the appearance and disappearance of the land bridges that connected the then "pieces" of the archipelago. He explained that more than 40 million years ago, the major islands in the country were largely isolated from one another. Million years later, some of the islands merged and came to share many species, but others remain isolated from their neighboring islands. Mindoro Island for example remained isolated from the rest of mainland Luzon. This explains why the animals found on this island such as the Tamaraw, Mindoro Bleeding Heart and Mindoro Tarictic are not present anywhere else in the country. The same for Palawan, which has endemic species such as the Palawan Peacock-pheasant, Palawan flying fox and Palawan porcupine. Many species in Bohol in the Visayas are also different from those in the neighboring islands of Negros and Panay.

Ironically, although the Philippines is internationally recognized as a treasure-trove of biodiversity, it is also considered having the highest rate of deforestation and habitat destruction in the world. That the country’s biodiversity is rich, in peril and in need of immediate conservation action have been confirmed by Haribon and Birdlife International. These two partner nongovernment organizations made a study in 2001 to identify the remaining Important Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in the country. They were able to select 117 IBAs from seven endemic bird areas: (1) Luzon, (2) Mindoro, (3) Negros and Panay, (4) Cebu, (5) Mindanao and Eastern Visayas, (6) Palawan and (7) Sulu Archipelago; and from secondary areas such as Batanes and Babuyan Islands, Tablas, Romblon and Sibuyan Islands and Siquijor Island.

The study made by Haribon and Birdlife International revealed that these IBAs hold significant number of globally threatened species. Yet, they are severely threatened by agricultural expansion, logging, mining and other causes. Measures to arrest these threats are found to be seriously inadequate, if not sorely lacking. Citing their findings, "human settlements are now encroaching in the uplands particularly in logging roads to find land to grow crops." They also mentioned that many IBAs are clothed with mining applications, which when granted can change the landscape of these areas and lead to biodiversity loss.

Today, the Philippines remains one of the highest priority countries in the world for conservation action—because its biodiversity is amazingly rich, yet alarmingly endangered.

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