Mammals, birds and reptiles face extinction

Posted: 21 February 2006

Author: Lisa Mastnythe

As many as 794 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and conifers are on the brink of disappearing, according to a study by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE), a coalition of 52 leading conservation groups.

The study, published by the US National Academy of Sciences, warns that these diverse species face imminent loss unless immediate action is taken. Species facing extinction include the whooping crane, the recently re-discovered ivory-billed woodpecker, and the Torrey pine in the United States, as well as lesser-known species like the Ruo River screeching frog and the Ethiopian water mouse. Nearly half are amphibians and almost one-quarter are birds.

The research team, led by Taylor Ricketts of the World Wildlife Fund, used data from the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species to identify "centers of imminent extinction," areas hosting species that are both highly threatened and limited to a single place.

They discovered 595 such sites,more than 100 of which have more than one endangered species. Particular concentrations of sites are found in the South American Andes, Brazil's Atlantic Forest, the United States, the Caribbean, and Madagascar. One Hawaiian site contributed 13 amphibians to the list, while another contributed five birds. (Insects, fish, and other taxonomic groups were excluded from the analysis for data reasons.)

One important finding from the study is that extinctions are no longer disproportionately restricted to island regions, where species are especially vulnerable to introduced predators like cats and rats. Extinctions are now expanding to the "continental storehouses of biodiversity," including lowland tropical forests and mountainous areas, Ricketts said.

Most of the at-risk sites are in developing regions with high human population densities, approximately three times the global average. While extinction is a natural process,the authors note that human-induced rates of species loss are now 100-1,000 times the background rate and are predicted to increase another 10 fold.

The 794 species at risk today represent three times the number of recorded extinctions since 1500. Mike Parr, Secretary of AZE, notes that not just species are at stake, but also the genetic diversity of ecosystems, the multi- million-dollar global ecotourism industry, and the clean water services provided by key watersheds.

"We have a moral obligation to act. The science is in, and we are almost out of time," Parr said. The Alliance urges greater action at the national,regional, and local levels to conserve species and their habitats. Of the 595 sites the group identified, only 203-about one-third-are legally protected. More than 40 per cent have no protections at all. Source: World Watch magazine, March/April 2006

Related links:

Getting the measure of extinction

Species extinction crisis escalates

The sixth great extinction: a status report