Wildlife & Biodiversity

Nearly a fifth of reptiles face risk of extinction, says study 

Threatened species concentrated in Southeastern Asia, West Africa, northern Madagascar, northern Andes and the Caribbean

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Monday 02 May 2022

Nearly a fifth of all reptile species globally are at risk of extinction, according to a new report. Habitat loss due to agriculture, deforestation and urban development are few of the greatest threats to reptiles all over the world, the report listed.

The authors of the report analysed 10,196 reptile species following the same criteria as the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species and found at least 1,829 are threatened. The Global Reptile Assessment was published in the journal Nature April 27, 2022.

Earlier, reptiles were omitted from conservation-prioritisation analyses because of lack of global assessments.

Reptiles are threatened by the same major factors that threaten other tetrapods (a superclass of animals that includes all limbed vertebrates): Agriculture, logging, urban development and invasive species, according to the authors of the report. They added: 

Reptiles inhabiting forests, where these threats are strongest, are more threatened than those in arid habitats, contrary to our prediction.

Around 30 per cent of forest-dwelling reptiles are at risk of extinction, compared with 14 per cent of reptiles in arid habitats, they added. 

The threat posed by climate change remains uncertain, the report said.

Reptiles in the study include turtles, crocodiles, lizards, snakes and tuatara (the only living member of a lineage that evolved in the Triassic period around 200-250 million years ago). 

Many threatened species of reptiles are concentrated in places where other vertebrates are also threatened, according to the assessment.  

Threatened reptile species are concentrated in Southeastern Asia, West Africa, northern Madagascar, the northern Andes and the Caribbean, the researchers found.

Some parts of southern Asia and northeastern United States have twice the number of reptile species in a threatened category than other tetrapods, it added.

Around 15.6 billion years of evolutionary history will be lost from the face of the earth if these 21 per cent species of reptiles go extinct in the coming years, the study stated. “Southeastern Asia, India, West Africa and the Caribbean comprise the top 15 per cent areas of phylogenetic (reconstructing the past evolutionary history of existing/surviving species) diversity loss, with high concentrations of threatened and evolutionarily distinct species.” 

The results of the study signal the need to ramp up conservation efforts globally, said Neil Cox, co-leader of the study and Manager of the IUCN-Conservation International Biodiversity Assessment Unit. 

Reptiles face a wide range of threats across a variety of habitats because the species is so diverse, he told NatureServe, a network of 60 governmental and non-governmental programs located in the United States and Canada, working for protect and conserve the plants, animals, and ecosystems. “A multifaceted action plan is necessary to protect these species, with all the evolutionary history they represent.” 

Land protection is a critically important conservation effort to buffer many threatened species from the dual threats of agricultural activities and urban development, the report read. 

It suggested halting “unsustainable harvest and stem the spread of invasive disease” to prevent more species of reptiles from becoming threatened. 

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