20% of reptiles face extinction, from king cobras to geckos

According to the world’s first such reptile assessment, around 20% of reptile species are threatened with extinction, mainly because peo...


According to the world’s first such reptile assessment, around 20% of reptile species are threatened with extinction, mainly because people are taking their habitats for agriculture, urban development and logging.

From the inch-long geckos to the iconic king cobra, at least 1,829 species of reptiles, including lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodiles, are at risk, according to the study.

The research, published Wednesday in Nature, adds another dimension to a substantial body of scientific evidence that points to a man-made biodiversity crisis similar to climate change in the far-reaching effect it could have on life on Earth. “It’s another drumbeat on the road to ecological disaster,” said Bruce Young, study co-lead and senior scientist at NatureServe, a nonprofit conservation research group. Such collapse threatens humans because healthy ecosystems provide essentials like fertile soil, pollination and water supply.

Among reptiles, turtles are particularly affected, with nearly 60% of species threatened with extinction, and crocodiles, with half. In addition to habitat loss, both groups are decimated by hunting and fishing.

But the results also brought a sense of relief. Scientists knew far less about the needs of reptiles than about mammals, birds and amphibians, and they feared the results would show reptiles slipping away because they required different methods of keeping. Instead, the authors were surprised at how much the threats to reptiles overlapped with those to other animals.

“There is no rocket science in reptile protection, we have all the tools we need,” Dr Young said. “Reduce tropical deforestation, control illegal trade, improve agricultural productivity so we don’t have to expand our agricultural areas. All of this will help reptiles, just as it will help many, many, many other species. »

The authors found that climate change played a role in the threat faced by 10% of species, suggesting it was not currently a major factor in reptile loss. But the effects could be underrepresented, Dr Young said, because scientists simply don’t know enough about many reptiles to determine whether a warming planet threatens them in the near term.

What is clear is that the casualties of climate change, reptilian and otherwise, will increase dramatically in the years to come if world leaders continue to fail to adequately control greenhouse gas emissions, which come from mainly from the combustion of fossil fuels. Last September, the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world, has been classified as endangered largely due to rising temperatures and sea levels caused by climate change.

The Reptile Assessment includes 52 authors with contributions from over 900 experts from around the world. It took over 15 years, partly because funding was hard to come by.

“Reptiles, to a lot of people, aren’t charismatic,” Dr. Young said. “There’s just been a lot more focus on some of the more furry or feathered species.”

The team ultimately assessed 10,196 species. In 48 workshops between 2004 and 2019, groups of local specialists would collect and assess species one by one. The results for each reptile were reviewed by a scientist familiar with the species but not involved in the assessment, and then again by International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species staff, the the most comprehensive global catalog on the status of animal species. and plant species.

With 21% of species threatened with extinction, reptiles are more exposed than birds (of which about 13% of species are threatened with extinction) and slightly less than mammals (25%). Amphibian species, which have suffered severe disease in addition to other effects, fared significantly worse, with around 40% of species at risk of extinction.

The study confirmed the results of a previous analysis who extrapolated extinction risk in reptiles based on a random representative sample.

If all endangered reptiles disappeared, the authors found they would take 15.6 billion years of evolutionary history with them. “Now that we know the threats each reptile species faces, the global community can take the next step by linking conservation plans to a global political agreement, investing in solving the biodiversity crisis often too underestimated and serious,” said Neil Cox, who co-lead the study and also manages the Biodiversity Assessment Unit, a joint initiative of IUCN and Conservation International to extend the coverage from the Red List.

This year, the nations of the world are drawing up a new global agreement to combat biodiversity loss. While the threats to species are clear – razing forests for cattle and palm oil, for example – it is much harder for countries to agree on how to stop them. A rally in Geneva last month ended in frustration among many scientists and advocates, who described a lack of urgency from governments after two years of pandemic-related delays. Organizers have added another meeting in June in hopes of making progress before the last one in Kunming, China, later this year.

Reptile research has identified hotspots for endangered reptiles in Southeast Asia, West Africa, northern Madagascar, the northern Andes, and the Caribbean.

The assessment fills an important gap, said Alex Pyron, an evolutionary biologist at George Washington University who focuses on reptile and amphibian biodiversity and was not involved in the research. “It allows us to paint a much more detailed picture than was possible before,” said Dr Pyron.

The scientists said they were particularly struck by the fact that habitat loss due to deforestation, agriculture and other causes posed a far greater threat to most reptiles than factors such as pollution and climate change. Dr Young, co-lead of the study, said solving problems like these would require significant changes in human behavior and economies, given that “the ultimate cause is human consumption”.

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Newsrust - US Top News: 20% of reptiles face extinction, from king cobras to geckos
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