More than one in five reptile species are threatened with extinction
Based on a media release by NatureServe, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and Conservation International
Virginia, Halle. At least 21% of all reptile species globally are threatened with extinction, according to a new study led by NatureServe, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and Conservation International, with contributions from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU). The study, published in the journal Nature, also shows that conservation efforts for other animals also contribute to the preservation of many reptile species.
For the Nature study, a diverse research team, representing 24 countries across six continents, analysed the conservation needs of 10,196 reptile species in comparison with mammals, birds, and amphibians. Reptiles in the study include turtles, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, and tuatara, the only living member of a lineage that evolved in the Triassic period approximately 200-250 million years ago.
Miguel Fernandez, postdoctoral researcher at iDiv and MLU, and Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Science and Policy at George Mason University, led the integration and analysis of all the geospatial information of this study. “Our work provides an in-depth analysis of the extinction risk for nearly every reptile on the planet,” he says. “It is shocking that we still know so little about this amazing group; in just a couple of years we have increased our knowledge of the status of reptiles sixfold.”
The research revealed that efforts to conserve threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians are more likely than expected to co-benefit many threatened reptiles. Although reptiles are well known to inhabit arid habitats such as deserts and scrubland, most reptile species occur in forested habitats, where they – and other vertebrate groups – suffer from threats such as logging and conversion of forests to agriculture. The study found that 30% of forest-dwelling reptiles are at risk of extinction, compared with 14% of reptiles in arid habitats.
The study also highlighted what we stand to lose if we fail to protect reptiles. If each of the 1,829 threatened reptiles became extinct, we would lose a combined 15.6 billion years of evolutionary history – including countless adaptations for living in diverse environments.
“The results of the Global Reptile Assessment signal the need to ramp up global efforts to conserve them,” says Neil Cox, co-leader of the study and Manager of the IUCN-Conservation International Biodiversity Assessment Unit. “Because reptiles are so diverse, they face a wide range of threats across a variety of habitats. A multifaceted action plan is necessary to protect these species, with all the evolutionary history they represent.”
The authors note that urgent, targeted conservation measures are still necessary to protect some of the most threatened reptile species, especially island endemic lizards threatened by introduced predators and those that are more directly impacted by humans. For example, hunting, rather than habitat modification, is the main threat to turtles and crocodiles, half of which are at risk of extinction. The findings of the global reptile assessment serve as a baseline that can be used to measure changes in extinction risk and track species recovery progress over time. Results will also be valuable to help guide allocation of conservation resources through identification of Key Biodiversity Areas and other places where active management could prevent extinctions.
“Reptiles are not often used to inspire conservation action, but they are fascinating creatures and serve indispensable roles in ecosystems across the planet. We all benefit from their role in controlling pest species and serving as prey to birds and other animals,” stated Dr. Sean T. O’Brien, President, and CEO of NatureServe. “The analysis of the first global reptile assessment enables us to pinpoint where reptiles need the most help and serve as a major step to countering the global extinction crisis.”
Over 900 scientists were recruited to contribute to the IUCN Red List assessments; the findings of which helped inform this analysis.
(Scientists with iDiv affiliation in bold)
Cox, N. and Young, B. E., ... Fernandez Trigoso, M. A. et al. Global reptile assessment shows commonality of tetrapod conservation needs. Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04664-7.
Dr Miguel Alejandro Fernandez Trigoso
Postdoctoral researcher of the Biodiversity Conservation reseaerch group
Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg (MLU)
Assoziierte Fakultät, Umweltwissenschaft und -politik, George Mason University
Phone: +49 341 9733192
Urs Moesenfechtel, M.A.(speaks English and German)
Media and Communications
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Phone: +49 341 9733106