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Important Plant Areas of Soqotra

Number of IPAs: 18 IPAs have been provisionally designated.

The Soqotra Archipelago is on the World Heritage List

Mountainous landscape with vegetation

Historical Background

The incredible and unique plant diversity of the Soqotra Archipelago was first systematically studied by Isaac Bayley Balfour in 1880. Then in greater depth and detail by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and other institutes from the mid-1980s onwards. This resulted in current floristic knowledge that recognises 850 vascular plant species of which 340 are endemic in an island system of only ca. 3,600 square kilometres.

World Heritage List

Approximately one third of the endemic plant species are threatened based upon recent reassessment using the IUCN Red List criteria, with unique vegetation assemblages rich in endemic taxa identified across the islands. As a result, Soqotra was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008 and is therefore the most famous plant biodiversity “hotspot” in the Arabian Peninsula. The people of Soqotra have long relied upon this diversity for their day-to-day requirements.

Important Plant Areas (IPAs)

While formal protected areas and informal target zones have been identified on Soqotra, the designation of these did not follow any formal criteria, therefore distribution data for plant species and vegetation types was gathered, assessed and aggregated into Important Plant Areas that meet selection criteria across the Archipelago. Areas recognised as species rich and outstanding examples of vegetation types are the foundation of the IPAs described.

18 IPAs have been provisionally designated covering approximately 32% of the Archipelago. All 113 threatened endemic plant species and all unique vegetation types are covered by this IPA network. While a range of pre-existing target areas were compared to proposed IPAs only the latter – with minor adjustments and additions – achieves such coverage of plant and habitat diversity.


While a number of IPAs and included species are threatened on Soqotra – often by uncontrolled development and a lack of environmental planning and enforcement – others are more remote but are clearly suffering from the combined effects of a changing climate and significant changes in traditional land management practices including changes in animal management. Other threats include a lack of tourism infrastructure and the effects of extreme weather events. A number of narrow endemics are extremely rare and occur in specialised niches and are at risk through their rarity alone.