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Caucasus Hotspot

The Caucasus hotspot covering an area of 532,658 sq km stretches across Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, parts of Turkey and Iran. At its southern extremity, the Caucasus merges with the Irano-Anatolian hotspot. Vegetation is marked by grassland steppes, swamp forests, broad-leaf forests, montane coniferous forests and shrublands.

The hotspot has 6,400 plant, 131 mammal, 378 bird, 86 reptile, 17 amphibian and 127 freshwater fish species. Endemic species of rhododendrons (Rhododendron caucasicum, R. ungernii, R. smirnowii), Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) and several wild relatives of wheat, rye, barley, walnuts, apricots and apples grow in the forests of the Caucasus.

Among birds there is a single endemic the Caucasian snowcock (Tetraogallus caucasicus). This is an important breeding spot for raptors and a corridor for migratory birds.

The region is home to the highly threatened Caucasian turs or mountain goats (Capra caucasica), the long-clawed mole-vole (Prometheomys schaposchnikowi), Caspian monk seal (Phoca caspica), Mediterranean horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus euryale), Mehely's horseshoe bat (R. mehelyi) and the Armenian birch mouse (Sicista armenica). Reptile endemism among lizards is very high especially for the genera Lacerta and Darevskia. Several of these lizard species are parthenogenic, meaning that there are no males, and females reproduce entirely on their own. Another notable reptile is the Caucasian viper (Vipera kaznokovi) whose venom is used in surgery to stop excessive bleeding. Amphibian species include the colourful Caucasian salamander (Mertensiella caucasica) and the critically endangered Gorgan salamander (Batrachuperus gorganensis). Among freshwater fishes lampreys that are ancient jawless and scaleless fishes, and the famous Beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), the largest freshwater fish and the source of high-value caviar are notable. Invertebrate endemics include a species of butterfly (Parnassius nordmanni) and the Rosalia longicorn beetle (Rosalia alpine).

Threats to the hotspot come from cutting of timber for firewood, overgrazing by sheep and poaching of wild animals. The official protected area extends to about 8% or 59,563 sq km. Besides government conservation initiatives like the ones undertaken by the Georgian, Russian and Azerbaijan governments, conservation organisations active in the region include the World Wildlife Fund, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Global Environment Facility, World Bank and the Georgian Center for the Conservation of Wildlife.

[The information has been sourced from the Conservation International website on biodiversity hotspots ( Accessed in February 2008.]

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