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Global database reveals large gaps in our knowledge of four-footed animals

Global database reveals large gaps in our knowledge of four-footed animals
Data gaps in natural history may arise due to challenges in detecting canopy-dwelling or nocturnally active species, such as the Slender loris (Loris tardigradus) from Sri Lanka. Credit: Alexander Pyron (CC-BY 4.0, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Researchers have developed TetrapodTraits—a global database of animals with four feet—which can now be applied for better ecology, evolution and conservation research. Mario Moura of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil, and Walter Jetz of Yale University, US, published the work on July 9 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology.

Tetrapods, which include amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, are generally well-documented species, which makes them useful as models in global biodiversity studies. However, gaps in our knowledge about many of these species, data inconsistencies and shifting scientific names can lead to biased conclusions about biodiversity.

To help address this issue, researchers created TetrapodTraits, a comprehensive database containing more than 33,000 tetrapod species that includes traits such as , habitat, ecosystem, geography, when the animal is active and whether it is threatened by humans.

In compiling the database, researchers revealed multiple gaps in our global tetrapod knowledge. For example, animals are more likely to have incomplete data if they have smaller bodies, are active at night, or live in tropical regions.

The team filled these gaps by predicting the based on existing observations. They found that using the completed data set changed biodiversity patterns informing which kind of species are commonly found in a region.

Global database reveals large gaps in our knowledge of four-footed animals
The challenges of detecting species with small sizes or nocturnal activity, such as the Walking Leaf Frog (Phyllomedusa burmeisteri) from Brazil, contribute to data gaps in natural history. Credit: Mario R. Moura (CC-BY 4.0, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

This new work reveals the scale of our missing tetrapod data and provides a comprehensive assessment of gaps and biases across different tetrapod groups. This is important because missing and biased data can lead to incorrect conclusions about how an ecosystem is functioning, and a species' risk of extinction.

The researchers conclude that while more is needed, TetrapodTraits can lead to less biased results for studies of tetrapod ecology and conservation.

The authors add, "Our research utilizes to uncover biases in biodiversity data and offer guidance for enhancing the effectiveness of field research and sampling strategies."

More information: Moura MR, Ceron K, Guedes JJM, Chen-Zhao R, Sica YV, Hart J, et al. (2024) A phylogeny-informed characterisation of global tetrapod traits addresses data gaps and biases. PLoS Biology (2024). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002658

Journal information: PLoS Biology

Citation: Global database reveals large gaps in our knowledge of four-footed animals (2024, July 9) retrieved 17 July 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2024-07-global-database-reveals-large-gaps.html
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