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New study warns reptiles being wiped out faster than scientists believed

At least a fifth face imminent extinction - and the figure could be much higher.



A close up shot of a turtle opening its mouth while eating dandelions in grass.
A turtle opening its mouth to eat a flower. (Photo by Juice Verve via Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Reptiles are being wiped out faster than previously feared, warns new research.

At least a fifth face imminent extinction - and the figure could be much higher, say scientists.

They include turtles, crocodiles, lizards and snakes. It suggests Earth's sixth mass extinction is gathering pace.

The finding is based on a computer model of 4,369 species omitted from the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Lead author Dr. Gabriel Henrique de Oliveira Caetano, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said: "Altogether, our models predict that the state of reptile conservation is far worse than currently estimated.

"Immediate action is necessary to avoid the disappearance of reptile biodiversity. Regions and taxa we identified as likely to be more threatened should be given increased attention in new assessments and conservation planning.

An American crocodile in a grassy field during daytime
An American crocodile in a grassy field during daytime. (Photo by Light and Vision via Shutterstock)

"Lastly, the method we present here can be easily implemented to help bridge the assessment gap on other less known taxa."

The machine learning tool focused on reptiles unlisted due to lack of assessment or data. It found they are most likely to be threatened.

Co-author Professor Shai Meiri said: "Importantly, the additional reptile species identified as threatened by our models are not distributed randomly across the globe or the reptilian evolutionary tree.

"Our added information highlights that there are more reptile species in peril - especially in Australia, Madagascar, and the Amazon basin - all of which have a high diversity of reptiles and should be targeted for extra conservation effort.

"Moreover, species-rich groups, such as geckos and elapids - cobras, mambas, coral snakes and others - are probably more threatened than the Global Reptile Assessment currently highlights. These groups should also be the focus of more conservation attention.

Wildlife has been disappearing at an unprecedented rate in recent decades due to climate change and loss of habitat. It has been dubbed a "biological annihilation".

The IUCN’s Red List is the most comprehensive of its kind - informing conservation policy and practices globally.

a close up photo of a cobra snake
A close up photo of a cobra snake. (Photo by White Space Illustrations via Shutterstock)

But the process for categorizing species is laborious and subject to bias - depending heavily on manual curation by human experts.

Many animal species have therefore not been evaluated or lack sufficient data - creating gaps in protective measures.

The problem applies to 40 percent of the world's reptiles. They are sometimes classified as 'DD' (Data Deficient). Extinction risk categories were assigned to them.

The Israeli team validated the model's accuracy - by comparing it to the Red List risk categorizations.

Added co-author Dr. Uri Roll: "Our work could be very important in helping the global efforts to prioritize the conservation of species at risk - for example using the IUCN red-list mechanism.

"Our world is facing a biodiversity crisis, and severe man-made changes to ecosystems and species, yet funds allocated for conservation are very limited.

"Consequently, it is key that we use these limited funds where they could provide the most benefits.

"Advanced tools such as those we have employed here, together with accumulating data, could greatly cut the time and cost needed to assess extinction risk, and thus pave the way for more informed conservation decision making."

The main threats reptiles face are agriculture, logging, urban development and invasive species.

In April a study of 10,196 species found that at least 1,829 were threatened with extinction. It was the most comprehensive to date.

A close-up shot of a beautiful green chameleon on a branch in the zoo park
A close-up shot of a green chameleon on a branch. (Photo by Oakland Images via Shutterstock)

The latest findings in PLOS Biology suggest it was a conservative estimate. Assessments of birds, mammals and amphibians have been far more extensive.

Earth's last mass extinction was the 'Cretaceous-Tertiary' 66 million years ago when an asteroid smashed into the Gulf of Mexico - killing off the dinosaurs and most other life.

The first was 443 million years ago, known as the 'End-Ordovician'. A severe ice age led to the sea level falling by 100m, wiping out 70 percent of ocean dwellers.

Then came the 'Late Devonian' 360 million years ago when prolonged climate change
killed off 70 percent of animals in shallow seas - including almost all corals.

The big one was the 'Permian-Triassi' 250 million years ago. More than 95 percent of species perished. Massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia led to severe global warming.

It was followed by the 'Triassic-Jurassic' 200 million years ago. Three-quarters of species were lost. A huge outburst of volcanism triggered the 'age of the dinosaurs.'

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