A comprehensive study of the world’s reptiles has found that more than one infive reptile species are threatened with extinction, with the rate more thandoubling in Australia over the past 25 years.
Conservation efforts for other animals have likely helped protect many reptilespecies, according to a new study led by NatureServe, the International Unionfor Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and Conservation International, inpartnership with Monash University.
The study, published in the journal Nature , was conducted by a diverseresearch team, representing 24 countries across six continents, and analysedthe conservation needs of 10,196 reptile species in comparison with mammals,birds, and amphibians.
Reptiles in the study include turtles, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, andtuatara, the only living member of a lineage that evolved in the Triassicperiod approximately 200-250 million years ago.
Professor David Chapple, from the Monash University School of BiologicalSciences, said that Australia is a global reptile hotspot, being home toaround 10 per cent of the world’s species.
“The vast majority of these species are endemic to Australia,” he said.
“The Global Reptile Assessment revealed that the plight of Australia’sreptiles has deteriorated over the past 25 years, with a doubling of thenumber of threatened species, and the first recorded extinction of anAustralian squamate reptile (Christmas Island forest skink, Emoianativitatis), and two species becoming Extinct in the Wild (blue-tailed skink,Cryptoblepharus egeriae, and Lister’s gecko, Lepidodactylus listeri).”
The research revealed that efforts to conserve threatened mammals, birds, andamphibians are more likely than expected to co-benefit many threatenedreptiles. Although reptiles are well known to inhabit arid habitats such asdeserts and scrubland, most reptile species occur in forested habitats, wherethey – and other vertebrate groups – suffer from threats such as logging andconversion of forest to agriculture.
The study found that 30 per cent of forest-dwelling reptiles are at risk ofextinction, compared with 14 per cent of reptiles in arid habitats.
Dr Bruce Young, co-leader of the study and Chief Zoologist and SeniorConservation Scientist at NatureServe, said he was surprised by the degree towhich mammals, birds and amphibians, collectively, can serve as surrogates toreptiles.
“This is good news because the extensive efforts to protect better knownanimals have also likely contributed to protecting many reptiles. Habitatprotection is essential to buffer reptiles, as well as other vertebrates, fromthreats such as agricultural activities and urban development.”
The study also highlighted what we stand to lose if we fail to protectreptiles. If each of the 1,829 threatened reptiles became extinct, we wouldlose a combined 15.6 billion years of evolutionary history, includingcountless adaptations for living in diverse environments.
Neil Cox, co-leader of the study and Manager of the IUCN-ConservationInternational Biodiversity Assessment Unit, said the results of the GlobalReptile Assessment signal the need to ramp up global efforts to conserve them.
“Because reptiles are so diverse, they face a wide range of threats across avariety of habitats. A multifaceted action plan is necessary to protect thesespecies, with all the evolutionary history they represent.”
Targeted conservation measures are still necessary to protect some of the mostthreatened reptile species, especially island endemic lizards threatened byintroduced predators and those that are more directly impacted by humans. Forexample, hunting, rather than habitat modification, is the main threat toturtles and crocodiles, half of which are at risk of extinction.
Dr Sean T O’Brien, President and CEO of NatureServe, said the findings of theglobal reptile assessment serve as a baseline that can be used to measurechanges in extinction risk and track species recovery progress over time.
“Reptiles are not often used to inspire conservation action, but they arefascinating creatures and serve indispensable roles in ecosystems across theplanet. We all benefit from their role in controlling pest species and servingas prey to birds and other animals,” he said.
“The analysis of the first global reptile assessment enable us to pinpointwhere reptiles need the most help and serve as a major step to countering theglobal extinction crisis.”
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