Slithering towards extinction: Almost 1 in 5 reptiles are struggling to survive

Feb 14, 2013

Nineteen percent of the world's reptiles are estimated to be threatened with extinction, states a paper published today by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in conjunction with experts from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC).

The study, printed in the journal of , is the first of its kind summarising the global conservation status of reptiles. More than 200 world renowned experts assessed the extinction risk of 1,500 randomly selected reptiles from across the globe.

Out of the estimated 19% of reptiles threatened with extinction, 12% classified as Critically Endangered, 41% Endangered and 47% Vulnerable.

Three Critically Endangered species were also highlighted as possibly extinct. One of these, a jungle runner lizard Ameiva vittata, has only ever been recorded in one part of Bolivia. Levels of threat remain particularly high in , mainly as a result of for agriculture and logging. With the lizard's habitat virtually destroyed, two recent searches for the species have been unsuccessful.

Dr. Monika Böhm, lead author on the paper: "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.

"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," Dr. Böhm added.

Extinction risk is not evenly spread throughout this highly diverse group: freshwater turtles are at particularly high risk, mirroring greater levels of threat in freshwater biodiversity around the world. Overall, this study estimated 30% of freshwater reptiles to be close to extinction, which rises to 50% when considering freshwater turtles alone, as they are also affected by national and international trade.

Although threat remains lower in terrestrial reptiles, the often restricted ranges, specific biological and environmental requirements, and low mobility make them particularly susceptible to human pressures. In Haiti, six of the nine species of Anolis lizard included in this study have an elevated risk of extinction, due to extensive deforestation affecting the country.

Collectively referred to as 'reptiles', snakes, , amphisbaenians (also known as worm lizards), crocodiles, and tuataras have had a long and complex evolutionary history, having first appeared on the planet around 300 million years ago. They play a number of vital roles in the proper functioning of the world's ecosystems, as predator as well as prey.

Head of ZSL's Indicators and Assessment Unit, Dr Ben Collen says: "Gaps in knowledge and shortcomings in effective conservation actions need to be addressed to ensure that reptiles continue to thrive around the world. 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,"

"This is a very important step towards assessing the conservation status of reptiles globally," says 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 globally. Tackling the identified threats, which include habitat loss and harvesting, are key conservation priorities in order to reverse the declines in these reptiles."

The current study provides an indicator to assess conservation success, tracking trends in over time and humanity's performance with regard to global biodiversity targets.

ZSL and IUCN will continue to work with collaborating organisations to ensure are considered in conservation planning alongside more charismatic mammal species.

Explore further: Declining catch rates in Caribbean green turtle fishery may be result of overfishing

Related Stories

Satellite images help species conservation

Nov 17, 2011

Organisms living on small islands are particularly threatened by extinction. However, data are often lacking to objectively assess these threats. A team of German and British researchers used satellite imagery ...

Over 17,000 species threatened by extinction

Nov 02, 2009

(AP) -- A rare Panamanian tree frog, a rodent from Madagascar and two lizards found only in the Philippines are among over 17,000 species threatened with extinction, a leading environmental group said Tuesday.

Invertebrates on the brink

Aug 31, 2012

One fifth of the world's invertebrates may be heading for extinction according to 'Spineless', a report published today (Friday 31st) by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), in conjunction with IUCN and ...

Two rhino species bite the dust: Red List

Nov 10, 2011

Several species of rhino have been poached into extinction or to the point of no return, according to an update of the Red List of Threatened Species, the gold standard for animal and plant conservation.

Recommended for you

Japan lawmakers demand continued whaling

8 hours ago

Japanese lawmakers on Wednesday demanded the government redesign its "research" whaling programme to circumvent an international court ruling that described the programme as a commercial hunt dressed up as ...

EU must take urgent action on invasive species

11 hours ago

The EU must take urgent action to halt the spread of invasive species that are threatening native plants and animals across Europe, according to a scientist from Queen's University Belfast.

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jsdarkdestruction
1.5 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2013
Well, on a good note, since some species handle it better than others in the long term the ecological niches left empty by the extinctions will be filled with species that can deal with pressures of the habitat. evolution will see to that.
MandoZink
5 / 5 (2) Feb 19, 2013
Well, on a bad note, although we trust evolution to allow some to handle the pressures and survive, we still cringe at the loss of species and the conditions that may have unnecessarily caused their demise.

(I prefer to deliver the good note.)
ValeriaT
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 19, 2013
The died out species will help anybody here. We are losing precious genetic information, which evolved millions of years. The extinct species may contain various biochemical and biomechanical adaptations, which could help us in solutions of many problems of contemporary medicine and biotechnology. Maybe somewhere in tropical forest the last specimen of frog, which contains the ultimate cancer cure is dying out right now. We are actually losing accumulated information of observable universe in this way.
deepsand
2.2 / 5 (10) Feb 19, 2013
Well, on a good note, since some species handle it better than others in the long term the ecological niches left empty by the extinctions will be filled with species that can deal with pressures of the habitat. evolution will see to that.

Not only is it not necessarily the case that any other species will be able to well utilize the vacated niche, but new species are created at a very much slower rate than existing species become extinct.
Sinister1811
3 / 5 (8) Feb 20, 2013
Unfortunately the evolutionary process is a painfully slow process, so it could take millions of years before another species utilizes and fills the same ecological niche.
jsdarkdestruction
2.5 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2013
i dont dispute that. i think its terrible all these species have gone extinct and think we should save each and every one that we still can. the time involved for total recovery from evolution may seem like a long time to you and me, but in the age of the earth its really nothing much at all. their have been at least 5 or6 large extinction events in the history of the earth and life has bounced back each time.
deepsand
1.3 / 5 (7) Feb 20, 2013
i dont dispute that. i think its terrible all these species have gone extinct and think we should save each and every one that we still can. the time involved for total recovery from evolution may seem like a long time to you and me, but in the age of the earth its really nothing much at all. their have been at least 5 or6 large extinction events in the history of the earth and life has bounced back each time.

How often it has happened in the past is immaterial to the present potential effects on the future of mankind.

More news stories

Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

Chimpanzees may select a certain type of wood, Ugandan Ironwood, over other options for its firm, stable, and resilient properties to make their bed, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access ...

Revealing camouflaged bacteria

A research team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has discovered an protein family that plays a central role in the fight against the bacterial pathogen Salmonella within the cells. The so cal ...