Extinction threatens one in five reptile species

More than a fifth of reptile species worldwide are threatened with extinction, with those that live in forests far more at risk than those that inhabit arid areas, according to a new study.

In the most comprehensive extinction risk assessment ever done on reptiles, researchers found that up to 21.1% of all known species were at risk.

“It’s just overwhelming the number of species we consider threatened,” said study co-author Neil Cox. The researchers published their findings April 27 in the journal Nature (opens in a new tab).

Prior to this new research, there had been no formal attempt to determine how many reptiles were at risk of extinction. Instead, conservationists have relied on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (opens in a new tab)which provides the risk status of birds, mammals and amphibians.

Using Red List criteria, study researchers found that 1,829 of 10,196 reptile species were Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered, a total of 21.1% of known species. .

They also found that 57.9% of turtles and 50% of crocodiles are threatened; in total, 40.7% of amphibians, 25.4% of mammals and 13.6% of birds are considered threatened by the IUCN, according to the Red List.

The global study was conducted over 15 years with the help of 961 researchers representing 24 countries on six continents.

For the study, researchers assessed preexisting surveys and datasets of turtles, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, and tuatara in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe and Oceania. The Tuatara are endemic to New Zealand and are considered the last survivors of an order of reptiles that date back “to the Triassic period, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation (opens in a new tab).

The authors said the reptiles were globally threatened by agriculture, logging, urban development and invasive species. This would explain why researchers found that 30% of reptiles living in forests were threatened with extinction compared to 14% of reptiles living in arid habitats, the authors said (opens in a new tab).

A golden poison frog

A golden poison frog. According to the IUCN, 40.7% of amphibians are threatened with extinction. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Researchers have also found that endangered reptiles are concentrated in Southeast Asia, West Africa, northern Madagascar, the northern Andes and the Caribbean – a finding that will help conservationists environment to focus their efforts where they are most needed.

The study authors also narrowed down the main threats to different groups of reptiles. For example, the lizards that live on the islands are threatened by predators that have been introduced there by man. In comparison, hunting and poaching are the main threats to turtles and crocodiles, the IUCN said.

How climate change threatens reptiles is not known with certainty due to a lack of long-term studies, the authors said. However, they wrote in the article that climate change is an “imminent threat” because it reduces the window when temperatures are good for cold-blooded animals to feed on, and it can also alter the sex ratios of the offspring in species where this is determined. by temperature.

“Reptiles aren’t often used to inspire conservation action, but they are fascinating creatures and play an indispensable role in the planet’s ecosystems,” said Sean T. O’Brien, president and CEO of NatureServe, which led the study in collaboration with IUCN and Conservation International, said in a press release. We all benefit from their role in controlling harmful and prey species for birds and other animals. »

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