Caribbean Islands 

French grunts school to prey and for protection in the Caribbean.
© Comstock Images
 

The Caribbean Islands support exceptionally diverse ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests to cactus scrublands, which have been devastated by deforestation and encroachment.

The hotspot has dozens of highly threatened species, including two species of solenodon (giant shrews) and the Cuban crocodile. The hotspot is also remarkable for the diminutive nature of much of its fauna, boasting the world’s smallest bird (the tiny bee hummingbird) and smallest snake.

VITAL SIGNS

Hotspot Original Extent (km²) 229,549
Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²) 22,955
Endemic Plant Species 6,550
Endemic Threatened Birds 48
Endemic Threatened Mammals 18
Endemic Threatened Amphibians 143
Extinct Species† 38
Human Population Density (people/km²) 155
Area Protected (km²) 29,605
Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV* 16,306
†Recorded extinctions since 1500. *Categories I-IV afford higher levels of protection.

OVERVIEW

The Caribbean Islands hotspot consists mainly of three large groups of islands between North and South America: the Bahamas, the Lesser Antilles, and the Greater Antilles (Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba, and Hispaniola, which includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Politically, the Caribbean (sometimes called the West Indies) comprises 12 independent nations and several French, British, U.S. and Dutch jurisdictions. While the hotspot spans more than 4 million square kilometers of ocean, it covers roughly 230,000 km² of land area, with the four islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico making up around 90 percent of land area.

Elevations in the Caribbean Islands range from over 3,000 meters (the formerly glaciated summit of Pico Duarte) to a desert depression 40 meters below sea level, both on Hispaniola. Low-lying islands tend to be semiarid, and most were originally dominated by dry evergreen bushland and thicket, with savanna, cactus shrub and spiny shrub occurring on parts of Barbuda, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico (where the average rainfall at low elevations is only 300-600 millimeters per year).

On the other hand, wetter environments occur where trade winds encounter the higher Caribbean mountains, giving rise to a variety of moist tropical forest types including marsh forest, seasonal forest, montane forest, and elfin woodland. In moister areas, around lagoons and river mouths, permanent brackish and freshwater swamps give way to extensive mangrove forests.

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