For the first time, researchers have completed an ‘atlas of life’ – a global review and map of every vertebrate on Earth.
A team of researchers produced a catalog and atlas of the world’s reptiles, and by linking it with existing maps for birds, mammals and amphibians, the team has found many new areas where conservation action is vital.
The researchers say that in order to best protect wildlife, it’s important to know where species live, so the right action can be taken and the scarce funding allocated in the right places.
Maps showing the habitats of almost all birds, mammals and amphibians have been completed since 2006, but it was thought that many reptile species were too poorly known to be mapped.
But a team of 39 scientists, led by researchers at the University of Oxford and Tel Aviv University, produced a new reptile atlas, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
The reptile atlas covers more than 10,000 species of snakes, lizards and turtles/tortoises, and that data completes the world map of 31,000 species of humanity’s closest relatives, including around 5,000 mammals, 10,000 birds and 6,000 frogs and salamanders.
The new map has revealed unexpected trends and regions of biodiversity fragility for reptiles.
They include the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, inland arid South Africa, the Asian steppes, the central Australian deserts, the Brazilian caatinga scrubland, and the high southern Andes.
‘Lizards especially tend to have weird distributions and often like hot and dry places, so many of the newly identified conservation priority areas are in drylands and deserts,’ said Dr Uri Roll, a researcher at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and the lead author of the paper.
‘These don’t tend to be priorities for birds or mammals, so we couldn’t have guessed them in advance.’
‘On the one hand, finding vital areas in arid regions is a good thing because the land is fairly cheap,’ said Dr Richard Grenyer, Associate Professor in Biodiversity and Biogeography at Oxford University, and a co-author of the study.
‘But deserts and drylands are also home to lots of other modern activities, such as major irrigation projects, huge new solar power developments, and sometimes widespread land degradation, war and conflict.