The status of species in the drylands remains unknown, as no assessment exists to date. About 8% of the drylands are protected, which is comparable to an average of about 10% in other ecosystems. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment reports that 8 of the 25 global hotspots are in the drylands. These are areas where 0.5% of the plant species are endemic to the region but habitat loss exceeds 70%.
The drylands ecosystems have a large and diverse heritage of flora and fauna, including major domesticated agricultural crops, with Africa alone being home to more than 50 000 known plant species, 1 000 mammal species, and 1 500 bird species. With desertification taking its toll, the biological diversity of the drylands ecosystems is steadily deteriorating, with some of the world's highest rates of loss of forests, rangelands, wetlands, and fish and wildlife populations (World Bank 2004) taking place at alarming rates.
Africa for example, lost 39 million hectares of tropical forest during the 1980s, and another 10 million hectares by 1995. More than 50% of wetlands in the U.S. were destroyed in the last 200 years. In Europe, between 60% and 70% of the wetlands are completely destroyed (Stein et al., 2000).
A critical challenge facing most countries is to halt and reverse the present extent of DLDD impacts and subsequent loss of biological diversity resulting from excessive exploitation of natural resources, especially those manifested in desertification and scarcity of water. With the increase in population, the situation in desertification-affected developing countries in the next few decades is likely to have the following characteristics:
(a) Continuing loss in forest cover, while progress in achieving sustainable forest management will be slow;
(b) Illegal logging will remain a major problem and many countries will not be in a position to produce wood competitively;
(c) Wood will continue to be the main source of energy, with wood fuel consumption expected to increase, while increased urban demand for charcoal will result in further degradation of forests;
(d) Effective resolution of land use conflicts will be critical in taking full advantage of the potentials of wildlife
(e) Loss of biodiversity, land degradation and deterioration of watersheds and underdevelopment of rural areas will remain critical problems.