Background: The world is undergoing exceptional biodiversity loss. Most conservation efforts target biodiversity hotspots at large scales. Such approach overlooks small-sized local hotspots, which may be rich in endemic and highly threatened species. We explore the importance of mountain rock pools (gueltas) as local biodiversity hotspots in the Sahara-Sahel. Specifically, we considered how many vertebrates (total and endemics) use gueltas, what factors predict species richness, and which gueltas are of most priority for conservation. We expected to provide management recommendations, improve local biodiversity conservation, and simultaneously contribute with a framework for future enhancement of local communities’ economy. The identification of local hotspots of biodiversity is important for revaluating global conservation priorities.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We quantified the number of vertebrate species from each taxonomic group and endemics present in 69 gueltas in Mauritania, then compared these with species present in a surrounding area and recorded in the country. We evaluated the predictors of species number’s present in each guelta through a multiple regression model. We ranked gueltas by their priority for conservation taking into account the percentage of endemics and threats to each guelta. Within a mere aggregate extent of 43 ha, gueltas hold about 32% and 78% of the total taxa analysed and endemics of Mauritania, respectively. The number of species present in each guelta increased with the primary productivity and area of gueltas and occurrence of permanent water. Droughts and human activities threaten gueltas, while 64% of them are currently unprotected.
Conclusion/Significance: Gueltas are crucial for local biodiversity conservation and human activities. They require urgent management plans in Mauritania’s mountains. They could provide refugia under climate change being important for long-term conservation of Sahara-Sahel biodiversity. Given their disproportional importance in relation to their size, they are local hotspots of biodiversity deserving global attention..
Journal: PLoS ONE