Only 5 regions in the world experience these conditions: the Mediterranean, south-central and southwestern Australia, the fynbos of southern Africa, the Chilean matorral, and the Mediterranean ecoregions of California. Although the habitat is globally rare, it features an extraordinary biodiversity of uniquely adapted animal and plant species, which can adapt to the stressful conditions of long, hot summers with little rain. Most plants are fire adapted, and dependent on this disturbance for their persistence.
All 5 Mediterranean-climate ecoregions are highly distinctive, collectively harboring 10% of the Earth’s plant species. Phytogeographers consider the Fynbos as a separate floral kingdom because 68% of the 8,600 vascular plant species crowded into its 90,000 kilometer2 are endemic and highly distinctive at several taxonomic levels.
In terms of species densities, this is equivalent to about 40% of the plant species of the United States and Canada combined, found within an area the size of the state of Maine (N. Myers, pers. comm.). The Fynbos and Southwest Australia shrublands have floras that are significantly more diverse than the other ecoregions, although any Mediterranean shrubland is still rich in species and endemics relative to other non-forest ecoregions.
Regional and local endemism is common, with some species with highly restricted ranges; high alpha and very high beta diversity, particularly in plants; specialization on soils is common.
Blocks of natural habitat need to be large enough to sustain regular fire events such that unburned patches are left to act as source pools and refugia for vagile species; some species undertake seasonal movements in response to resource availability, thus diverse habitats and natural linkage habitats are important; riparian habitats critical for survival of many species.
Sensitivity to Disturbance
Natural communities are highly sensitive to habitat fragmentation, grazing, and alteration of fire regimes (overburning or fire suppression), native species are particularly at risk from exotic plants and animals that establish and spread with ease in these communities; restoration of communities is feasible but fire regimes must be restored and exotics controlled effectively