One in five reptiles faces extinction in what scientists say would have a ‘devastating’ effect on humans and the planet. The results from the largest analysis to date on the state of the world’s reptiles warns of threat to ecosystems as more than 1,800 species are currently fighting to survive. With 21% of reptile species (from lizards to snakes to geckos and turtles) currently facing extinction, such a loss could have disastrous impacts on ecosystems around the world.
The study was led by NatureServe, the IUCN and Conservation International. Fifty-two experts analysed data from the Global Reptile Assessment, which has received contributions from more than 900 scientists across six continents in the past 17 years. While 1,829 of 10,196 species are known to be threatened, the status of 1,489 could not be determined. Allowing for these data deficient species, the authors estimate that, in total, 21% are threatened.
Reasons for the devastating effects on reptiles
Climate change is just one feature affecting reptile survival. Although many reptiles live in arid environments such as deserts and scrubland, most species occur in forests, where they suffer from threats such as logging and conversion of land for agriculture. The study found 30% of forest-dwelling reptiles are at risk of extinction, compared with 14% in arid habitats. The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), for example, listed as globally ‘vulnerable’, is declining across much of its range in Asia, largely due to the loss of forest habitat.
Hunting is also a major threat to reptiles, especially turtles and crocodiles, half of which are at risk of extinction. Another major contributing factor is the introduction of invasive species.
What does the significant threat to reptiles mean for humans?
As well as controlling rats, mosquitoes and other “pests”, reptiles deliver many other benefits. According to scientist and head of wildlife recovery at the Zoological Society of London, Dr. Mike Hoffmann, “They help disperse seeds, especially in island environments. We’ve also achieved many medical advances from studies of reptiles. Snake venom, for example, has resulted in critical drug discoveries, including for treating hypertension.
“The impending loss of reptile species could lead to wide-ranging and unforeseen impacts on our environment and our own well-being.”
Reptiles require direct, global, efforts to protect them. Scientists note that conservation efforts to help other animals are likely to be protecting reptile species as collateral. But there are more reptile species threatened than birds, suggesting more work is needed to protect them.
“We need solid conservation plans, global policy agreement, and to have countries fully invest in turning around the looming biodiversity crisis if we are to prevent the ongoing extinction catastrophe.”
-Dr. Bruce Young, co-leader of the study, and chief zoologist and senior conservation scientist at NatureServe
Journal reference: Cox, N., Young, B.E., Bowles, P. et al. A global reptile assessment highlights shared conservation needs of tetrapods. Nature (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04664-7