A global study has found that farming, logging, urban development and invasive species may cause 21 per cent of reptile species to go extinct
27 April 2022
More than a fifth of reptile species could be wiped out by threats such as farming, logging, urban development and invasive species, according to the first global assessment of reptiles at risk of extinction.
Bruce Young at NatureServe, an international biodiversity organisation based in Arlington, Virginia, and his colleagues collated data from over 900 researchers around the globe to assess the extinction risk for 10,196 reptile species, including turtles, crocodiles and lizards.
By accounting for local factors such as habitat degradation and population sizes, they estimated that 21.1 per cent of reptile species could go extinct over the next three generations or the next 10 years, whichever period is longer.
The researchers found that farming, logging and urban development posed the largest threats, with species in tropical regions of South-East Asia, West Africa, northern Madagascar and the Caribbean islands at the highest risk. What’s more, the analysis revealed that 31 reptile species have already gone extinct.
The results are worrying because these animals play a vital part of food webs. “Reptiles are good for people because they help control pests, such as insects and rodents,” said Blair Hedges at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at a press briefing. “They fill a crucial intermediate role in the food chain between insects and the predators of reptiles.”
There have been relatively few conservation programmes targeting reptiles, but efforts to protect other animals have probably helped them to some extent.
“Most of the protected areas set up with birds, mammals and amphibians in mind likely have helped to protect many threatened reptiles as well, and the situation is less dire than it could be,” says Young.
The findings will feed into negotiations at the United Nations COP15 biodiversity meeting, which has been delayed until autumn this year and aims to create a global deal for protecting wildlife.
“This information is absolutely vital to designing effective conservation measures, [and] understanding where reptile species may benefit from existing efforts and where conservation attention is lacking for species in need,” says Nisha Owen at conservation organisation On The Edge.
However, talks in Geneva, Switzerland, to draft the COP15 deal have made slow progress, she says.
“After the meeting in Geneva, the situation is a lot more muddled than it was beforehand. Hopefully, they will set sensible targets with meaningful measures to determine if we’re successful or not at reaching them,” says Young.
“Conservation of reptiles and mammals will require both a greatly expanded network of protected areas and rapid increases in crop yields, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South America,” says David Tilman at the University of Minnesota.
Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04664-7
Sign up to Wild Wild Life, a free monthly newsletter celebrating the diversity and science of animals, plants and Earth’s other weird and wonderful inhabitants
More on these topics: