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More than 300 critically endangered species completely unprotected, new study shows


Analysis of 11,633 species published in ’Nature’ underscores urgent need for major shift in conservation strategies

At least 300 Critically Endangered (CR) – as well as at least 237 Endangered (EN) and 267 Vulnerable (VU) – bird, mammal, turtle and amphibian species have no protection in any part of their ranges, according to the most comprehensive peer-reviewed analysis of its kind. The findings appear in the current issue of the journal Nature.

The "global gap analysis" authors state that a major shift in conservation planning is required to avoid large-scale species extinctions over the next few decades. The prevailing strategy for global conservation, forged at the 1992 World Parks Congress, calls for protection for 10 percent of every major biome by the year 2000. But even though more than 10 percent of the Earth’s land surface is now protected, the complete lack of protection for many of Earth’s most threatened species underscores the "gaps" in the protected area system.

"Protecting more than 10 percent of the planet’s land surface is a major conservation achievement," said Gustavo Fonseca, Executive Vice President for Programs and Science at Conservation International (CI) and Professor of Zoology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. "But this study proves that no matter how appealing arbitrary percentage targets might be from a political standpoint, we should focus specifically on those places with the greatest concentrations of threatened and endemic species."

The Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) at CI led the study, in which 21 scientists representing 15 organizations participated.

But the analysis builds upon the work of thousands of scientists and dozens of institutions. CABS scientists compared a map of over 100,000 protected areas to maps of 11,633 species ranges from four species groups, based on data compiled through the Species Survival Commission of IUCN-The World Conservation Union and BirdLife International. They then identified places where species live without any protection, and analyzed where the highest priority gaps in protection existed. In total, 1,171 threatened bird species, and 4,735 mammal, 5,454 amphibian and 273 freshwater turtle and tortoise species were included.

MAMMALS: Of 4,735 mammal species analyzed for this study, 258 are "gap species," meaning that they have no protection over any part of their ranges. Of those, 149 are threatened. CR mammals currently unprotected include one of the world’s rarest fruit bats, the Comoro black flying fox (Pteropus livingstonii), from the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean and the Handley’s slender mouse opossum (Marmosa handleyi) from Colombia.

AMPHIBIANS: Of the 5,454 amphibian species analyzed, 913 are gap species. Of those, 411 are threatened. CR amphibians without current protection include several species from the Mantella genus, a group of colorful frogs endemic to Madagascar, such as the harlequin mantella (Mantella cowanii) and the black-eared mantella (Mantella milotympanum).

BIRDS: The world’s 1,171 threatened bird species were analyzed, revealing 232 threatened gap species. CR bird species without current protection include the yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis), which has fewer than 150 known individuals remaining and is found only in the Colombian Andes and the Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher (Eutrichomyias rowleyi), with fewer than 100 individuals known to exist, only on Indonesia’s Sangihe Island.

TURTLES AND TORTOISES: Of the 273 turtles and freshwater tortoises mapped, 21 are gap species, 12 of which are threatened. CR gap species include the Roti Island snake-necked turtle (Chelodina mccordi), discovered in 1994 on the little island of Roti, Indonesia, and threatened by over-collection for the international pet trade, and the Burmese star tortoise (Geochelone platynota) from Myanmar, whose population is being devastated by the trade within Asian medicinal, food, and pet markets.

"This study is only the tip of the iceberg," said Ana Rodrigues, Research Fellow with CABS at CI. "As more comprehensive data becomes available, they will certainly reveal many more gaps in coverage by the global protected area network, particularly in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Studies like these are critical first steps toward preventing future species extinctions."

Luba Vangelova | EurekAlert!
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