Nearly a fifth of the world’s reptile species are at risk of extinction, according to a new study.
The study, led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in collaboration with 200 experts from the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, is the first of its kind to summarise the global conservation status of the world’s reptiles.
By analysing a random sample of 1,500 reptile species, it found that around 19% of reptiles are threatened. Of these, 12% are classified as Critically Endangered, 41% as Endangered and 47% as Vulnerable.
Reptiles under threat
The findings of the study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, also highlighted the possible extinction of three reptile species. These include the jungle runner lizard (Ameiva vittata), which has only ever been recorded in one part of Bolivia but has not been seen since its habitat was destroyed.
The study also showed that threats to reptiles are particularly high in tropical regions, where deforestation and the spread of agriculture are significant concerns.
Of all the reptile groups, freshwater turtles are one of the most threatened, with half of all freshwater turtle species believed to be at risk of extinction, mainly due to harvesting for food and the pet and medicine trades. Overall, 30% of all reptiles associated with freshwater and marine environments are under threat.
Sensitive to change
There are over 9,000 known species of reptiles in the world, and this diverse group includes turtles, tortoises, snakes, crocodiles, lizards, tuataras, and the worm-like amphisbaenians. Reptiles play an important role in ecosystems, both as predators and prey.
“The risk is – if you lose a really important food source you can change food webs quite dramatically,” said Dr Monika Böhm, lead author of the study.
“Reptiles are often associated with extreme habitats and tough environmental conditions, so it is easy to assume that they will be fine in our changing world,” she said. “However, many species are very highly specialised in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for day to day functioning. This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes.”
Reptile conservation priorities
One of the aims of this study was to provide an indicator of reptile biodiversity that can be compared with other species groups and monitored over time. The findings of the study will also help scientists to decide which species should be priorities for conservation action.
“Gaps in knowledge and shortcomings in effective conservation actions need to be addressed to ensure that reptiles continue to thrive around the world,” said Ben Collen, Head of ZSL’s Indicators and Assessments Unit and one of the co-authors of the study. “These findings provide a shortcut to allow important conservation decisions to be made as soon as possible and firmly place reptiles on the conservation map.”
According to Philip Bowles, Coordinator of the Snake and Lizard Red List Authority of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, “The findings sound alarm bells about the state of these species and the growing threats that they face. Tackling the identified threats, which include habitat loss and over-harvesting, are key conservation priorities in order to reverse the declines in these reptiles.”
Read more on this story at BBC – World’s reptiles at risk of extinction and The Guardian – One in five reptile species face extinction – study.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author