A study conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species warned that the extinction of reptiles could have a “devastating” effect on Earth’s ecosystem. In this largest study ever conducted, it concluded that 21 percent of all reptile species worldwide are threatened with extinction.
The 1,829 reptiles at risk of extinction are “living examples of an important branch of the world’s evolutionary history—15.6 billion years total, with innumerable environmental adaptations,” EcoWatch reported.
“The results of the Global Reptile Assessment signal the need to ramp up global efforts to conserve them,” Neil Cox, the study’s co-leader and manager of the biodiversity assessment unit at the IUCN and Conservation International, said. “Because reptiles are so diverse, they face a wide range of threats across a variety of habitats. A multifaceted action plan is necessary to protect these species, with all the evolutionary history they represent.”
The study, The Global Reptile Assessment, was published in the journal Nature. It was “conducted by 52 experts representing 24 countries across six continents, and in the last 17 years it has received contributions from more than 900 scientists,” The Guardian reported.
“We would lose a combined 15.6bn years of evolutionary history if each of the 1,829 threatened reptiles became extinct,” Cox said. “This is evolution that we could never get back. It would be a devastating loss.”
The study was led by NatureServe, the IUCN and Conservation International and “compared the conservation needs of 10,196 reptile species with those of birds, mammals and amphibians,” EcoWatch reported from a press release. The Global Reptile Assessment specifically studied crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards and tuatara, a reptile found in New Zealand that traces back to the Triassic period.
Some benefits of reptiles on the ecosystem includes managing populations of rats and mosquitoes and aiding seed dispersal. While most reptiles live in forests, the study found that reptiles that live in arid habitats like scrubland and deserts (14 percent) are at a greater risk of extinction, compared to those that live in forests (30 percent).
“Habitat protection is essential to buffer reptiles, as well as other vertebrates, from threats such as agricultural activities and urban development,” Dr. Bruce Young, co leader of the study and chief zoologist and senior conservation scientist at NatureServe, said.
While there are more reptile species threatened with extinction than bird species, Mike Hoffmann, a scientist involved with the study and director of wildlife recovery at the Zoological Society of London, said, the study’s scientists urge that conservative efforts be implemented worldwide.
“This global assessment is a key beginning to understanding reptile conservation needs. Now we know where the priorities are and what the threats are that we need to ameliorate,” Young said. “There is no longer any excuse for leaving reptiles out of conservation planning and implementation efforts worldwide.”