Status and Trends of Biodiversity
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is about 1,969,000 km2 in area making it the tenth largest country covering 1.64% of the land area of the world, and 8% of the land area of Asia. The flora of Saudi Arabia reflects the geographical position of the Arabian Peninsula between Africa, Asia and Europe. There are 2,250 species of flowering plants in Saudi Arabia of which some 246 species are considered regionally endemic. About 450 species (18%) of flowering plants have direct benefits to human beings and 45 species (1.8%) are poisonous. Some 334 species (13.4%) are used in folk medicine or are known to have medicinal value. The varied biodiversity of Saudi Arabia stems from its pivotal location between Africa and Eurasia, which allows elements of both regions to intermingle. There are 93 mammal species, 432 bird species, 9 freshwater fish species, 103 reptiles and 7 amphibians found in Saudi Arabia. Some major threats to biodiversity include: habitat destruction and fragmentation, over-grazing, over-hunting, changes to intensive modern agricultural practices, pollution, recreational activities, expansion of urban areas and exotic, invasive species.
Number and Extent of Protected Areas
To date, 15 protected areas, covering almost 4% of the country’s surface conserve all the major physiographic regions, half the country’s biotopes, key wetlands, marine and mountain habitats and protect viable populations of endemic, endangered and key plant and animal species.
Percentage of Forest Cover
About a 2.7 million hectares of woodlands is still remaining in the mountains of Saudi Arabia particularly in the remote steep and inaccessible areas.
The Juniper woodlands are one of the few densely wooded habitats in Saudi Arabia. They are concentrated in a narrow belt about 7,600 square kilometers in size. Juniper woodlands thrive at attitudes of 2000 – 3000 meters, and are characterized by some of the highest species diversity and biomass in Saudi Arabia.
The wide olive woodlands commence on slopes that are 1500 – 2000 meters high and intermix with juniper stands.
In addition to the mountain woodlands there are the arid woodlands, which are primarily acacias in the desert and mangroves along the coasts.
Factors limiting to expanding forests and woodlands include lack of sufficient rainfall, high cost of reforestation programs and lack of enough qualified foresters in Saudi Arabia.
The threats to forests are uncontrolled cutting live branches to feed livestock; urban expansion in wooded areas and indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemical pollution.