Biodiversity hotspots are rich in endemic species and threatened by anthropogenic influences and, thus, considered priorities for conservation. In this study, conservation achievements in 36 global biodiversity hotspots (25 identified in 1988, 10 added in 2011, and one in 2016) were evaluated in relation to changes in human population density and protected area coverage between 1995 and 2015. Population densities were compared against 1995 global averages, and percentages of protected area coverage were compared against area-based targets outlined in Aichi target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (17% by 2020) and calls for half Earth (50%). The two factors (average population density and percent protected area coverage) for each hotspot were then plotted to evaluate relative levels of threat to biodiversity conservation. Average population densities in biodiversity hotspots increased by 36% over the 20-year period, and were double the global average. The protected area target of 17% is achieved in 19 of the 36 hotspots; the 17 hotspots where this target has not been met are economically disadvantaged areas as defined by Gross Domestic Product. In 2015, there are seven fewer hotspots (22 in 1995; 15 in 2015) in the highest threat category (i.e., population density exceeding global average, and protected area coverage less than 17%). In the lowest threat category (i.e., population density below the global average, and a protected area coverage of 17% or more), there are two additional hotspots in 2015 as compared to 1995, attributable to gains in protected area. Only two hotspots achieve a target of 50% protection. Although conservation progress has been made in most global biodiversity hotspots, additional efforts are needed to slow and/or reduce population density and achieve protected area targets. Such conservation efforts are likely to require more coordinated and collaborative initiatives, attention to biodiversity objectives beyond protected areas, and support from the global community.
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