Past, present and future perspectives


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A view over Haute Atlas, Morocco

Michael Gunther/Still Pictures

Northern Africa's extreme climatic conditions and physical features greatly influence the sub-region's biological elements. Most of Northern Africa falls within arid and semi-arid environments, but there is also a range of geomorphological features and sub-climatic zones which have created diverse ecosystems and extremely rich communities of flora and fauna. For example, long shores with vast areas of coastal land, oases in the Sahara and varying landforms create diversity of habitat and remarkable biological diversity, including a large number of varieties and strains of field crops. Morocco, for example, has 3 675 recorded species of higher plants, and Sudan has 267 recorded species of mammals and 938 recorded species of birds. The sub-region's reptiles and amphibians are still under assessment in most countries, but Egypt has already recorded 83 species of reptile and 6 species of amphibians. The sub-region has 1 129 endemic species, 22 endemic species of mammals, one endemic bird species, 20 endemic species of reptiles and 4 endemic species of amphibians, with Morocco having the greatest level of endemism (WCMC 1992). Northern Africa also encompasses the biota of the semi-closed Mediterranean and Red Seas. The Mediterranean Basin is one of the 25 internationally recognized biodiversity hotspots, with extraordinary plant diversity and endemism.

There are also five regionally recognized hotspots in Northern Africa, these are: