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One In Five Reptiles Threatened With Extinction, Says Study

posted 20 Mar 2013, 06:30 by Mpelembe   [ updated 20 Mar 2013, 06:31 ]

A landmark study has concluded that almost one in five reptile species are threatened with extinction. The more than 200 world experts involved in the study say loss of habitat is the driving force behind the plummeting reptile populations but that overcoming the problem should not be beyond mankind.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (MARCH 15, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Almost one in five of the world's reptiles are threatened with extinction, according to a team of eminent zoologists.

In a paper published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), in conjunction with experts from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), 1,500 reptile species from around the world were examined. The study, printed in the journal of Biological Conservation, is believed to be the first of its kind summarising the global conservation status of reptiles. More than 200 world renowned experts assessed the extinction risk of the randomly selected reptiles from across the globe.

Out of the estimated 19 percent of reptiles threatened with extinction, 12 percent are classified as Critically Endangered. 41 percent of the reptiles included in the study are listed as Endangered, including the rhinoceros iguana, native to theCaribbean island of Hispaniola. A further 47 percent are classified as Vulnerable, including Asia's iconic King Cobra, the longest venomous snake in the world.

Levels of threat remain particularly high in tropical regions, mainly as a result of habitat conversion for agriculture and logging. Lead author Dr. Monika Bohm(pron: Boom) says habitat loss is a serious problem.

"Our study has shown that globally one in five reptiles are threatened with extinction. Like in other species group the main reason for this is habitat loss, which affects reptiles world-wide," she said. "What this shows us is that our habitats are under severe threat, so they are very good indicators to show us what is happening in terms of what we as humans are doing to our habitats. Secondly reptiles are often locally quite abundant and therefore are a very common prey species to other species and disrupting this food web can have severe impacts and knock-on effects on other species that we're not yet aware of."

The paper says 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. The study estimates three in ten freshwater reptiles are close to extinction, with one in two freshwater turtles at risk of disappearing.

According to Bohm, "The extinction risk is not spread equally across the different groups of reptiles. For example, what we found is that snakes overall have a lower extinction risk compared to other groups of reptiles, while turtles and tortoises in particular have a very, very high risk of extinction and this is because they're not only affected by habitat loss, but they're also often subject to harvesting, for example for food and the pet trade."

But it's not all doom and gloom, according to Böhm. She says small, targeted, man-made changes to habitats could help conservationists preserve many threatened species.

"It's relatively straightforward to kind of produce habitats that will work for reptiles at the scale of which they operate. We just need to kind of put the effort in to actually give them the chance to thrive in our man-made world," she said.

Collectively referred to as reptiles, snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians, 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.

ZSL and IUCN say they will seek to improve awareness of reptile threats and ensure they are considered in conservation planning alongside more charismatic mammal species.