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Sri Lanka

Fragmented bits of biodiversity, rich zones scattered across this tiny island is all that remains of a once, densely forested country. Though separated by a distance of 400 km, the similarities in species between those seen in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka are striking. Most of the total area of the 65,610 sq km hotspot in Sri Lanka gets an annual rainfall of just 2,000 mm except for the southwestern part where the annual rainfall is more than double at 5,000 mm. The island has nearly 140 fragments of forested land, with most of them being less than 10 km in area. The relatively larger fragments of forests left include, the Sinharaja World Heritage Site extending across an area of 90 sq km, Peak Wilderness occupying an area of 250 sq km and Knuckles Hills spread out over an area of 175 sq km. In the Sinharaja World Heritage site alone, as much as 65% of Sri Lanka's 220 endemic tree and woody climber species and 270 species of vertebrates have been found. Vegetation in this hotspot varies from dry, evergreen forests in the dry zone to dipterocarp-dominated rainforests and tropical, montane cloud forests in the wet zone. Nearly 54 species of dipterocarps and 916 species of flowering plants from a total of 3,210 species of flowering plants in 18 genera are endemic to Sri Lanka.

Most of the mammals seen in Sri Lanka are the same as those seen in the Western Ghats. The island has three endemic genera of bats, each represented by a single species. Species seen here include Pearson's long-clawed shrew (Solisorex pearsoni), Kelaart's long-clawed shrew (Feroculus feroculus), and the Ohiya rat (Srilankamys ohiensis). Flagship species like the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) have been almost completely eliminated from the forests of the wet zone. The elephants now live in the drier regions of the country and number about 2,500. Species of mammals endemic to Sri Lanka include the Nillu rat (Rattus montanus), jungle shrew (Suncus zeylanicus), purple-faced leaf monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus), Sri Lankan long-tailed shrew (Crocidura miya), Sri Lanka shrew (Suncus fellowsgordoni), Nolthenius's long-tailed climbing mouse (Vandeleuria nolthenii) and the toque macaque (Macaca sinica). Other species of mammals seen here include dhole (Cuon alpinus), dugong (Dugong dugon), Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), Sri Lankan giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura), Sri Lankan highland shrew (Suncus montanus) and slow loris (Loris tardigradus). Aquatic species of mammals found here include blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and sperm whale (Physeter catodon).

The island has been recognised as an Endemic Bird Area with nearly 20 species of endemic birds and ten species considered threatened, of the 450 species found in this hotspot. Threatened species found here include the green-billed coucal (Centropus chlororhynchos), the Sri Lanka whistling thrush (Myiophonus blighi), rufous-breasted laughingthrush (Garrulax cachinnans), spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), the lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) and the Kashmir flycatcher (Ficedula subrubra). In 2004, a new species of owl, the Serendib scops owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) was discovered in Sri Lanka.

Reptile and amphibian endemism is high in the island. Of the 183 species of reptiles found in Sri Lanka, nearly 104 are endemic and include five species of marine turtles and 13 species of marine snakes belonging to the family Hydrophiidae. The island has nearly 140 endemic species of amphibians belonging to seven genera, of which the genus Philautus with over 50 endemic species has the highest endemicity.

The freshwater fish population of this hotspot also shows high endemicity, with nearly 140 species of the over 190 species, belonging to nine endemic genera, reported to be endemic. Besides, one genus Malpulutta is endemic to Sri Lanka. Much research still needs to be carried out on invertebrate diversity and endemicity, both in the Western Ghats as well as Sri Lanka. However, information on species of butterflies found has been better documented with nearly 24 of 234 species of butterflies endemic to Sri Lanka. Similarly, nearly 100 of 140 tiger beetle species have been found endemic to this hotspot.

With over 65% of the population living in the wet zone, most of the rainforests in this island have been cleared for cultivation of cinchona and coffee in earlier times, which has now been replaced by tea and rubber plantations. Encroachments into forest land, poaching, logging, extraction of medicinal plants and other non-timber forest produce, overgrowth of invasive species and, widespread use of agrochemicals have led to destruction of the natural habitat in many parts of Sri Lanka. Barely 26,000 sq km or 13.8% of this hotspot receives official protection with just 11% of the area falling in categories I-IV. In a collaborative effort jointly carried out by the Wildlife Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka and the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, 92 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) have been identified. Most of the KBAs are located in the southwestern wet zone, and some of them have over 100 globally threatened species. Most conservation initiatives in the country are led by the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation. International support comes from the US government, the government of Netherlands and Global Environment Facility. The only international non-governmental organisation with a significant presence in the region is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which has developed a red list of threatened species.

References Accessed in March 2008 Accessed in March 2008 Accessed in March 2008

Gunawardene, N. R., A. E. D. Daniels, I. A. U. N. Gunatilleke, C. V. S Gunatileke, P. V. Karunakaran, K. G. Nayak., S. Prasad, P. Puyravaud, B. R. Ramesh, K. A. Subramanian and G. Vasanthy. 2007. A brief overview of the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot. Current Science. 93(11): 1567-1572.

Kazmierczak, K. 2000. A field guide to the birds of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistn, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives. OM Book Service, New Delhi, India. 352 pp.

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

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