Europe's amphibians and reptiles under threat

Posted: 25 May 2009

One fifth of Europe's reptiles and nearly a quarter of its amphibians are threatened, according to new studies commissioned by the European Commission and carried out by IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

The studies, to be presented on World Biodiversity Day, constitute the first European Red Lists for amphibians and reptiles, and reveal alarming population trends. More than half of all European amphibians (59 per cent) and 42 per cent of reptiles are in decline, which means that amphibians and reptiles are even more at risk than European mammals and birds.

Fire Salamander
Fire Salamander
Common Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra. The principal threats to this species are habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution of breeding sites by agrochemicals, and predation by invasive salmonid fishes and American Crayfish Procambarus clarkii. Photograph © Roberto Sindaco.
For 23 per cent of amphibians and 21 per cent of reptiles the situation is so severe that they are classified as threatened in the European Red List. Most of the pressure on these declining species comes from mankind's destruction of their natural habitats, combined with climate change, pollution and the presence of invasive species.

"On World Biodiversity Day, this is a sobering discovery," said Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment. "Despite strong legislation protecting our habitats and most of the species concerned, almost a quarter of Europe's amphibians are now under threat. This reflects the enormous pressure we are placing on Europe's plants and animals, and underlines the need to rethink our relation to the natural world. I therefore call on citizens, politicians and industrialists to reflect on our recent Message from Athens, and factor a concern for biodiversity into the decisions they make. These trends cannot continue."

Dr Helen Temple, co-author of the study, said: “Southern Europe is particularly rich in amphibians but climate change and other threats are placing its freshwater habitats under severe stress. Natural habitats across Europe are being squeezed by growing human populations, agricultural intensification, urban sprawl and pollution. That is not good news for either amphibians or reptiles.”

Amphibians and reptiles more endangered than mammals

Europe is home to 151 species of reptiles and 85 species of amphibians, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. Six reptile species including the Tenerife speckled lizard (Gallotia intermedia) and the Aeolian Wall Lizard (Podarcis raffonei) have been classified as Critically Endangered, meaning that they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Eleven more are classified as Endangered (i.e. facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild) and 10 as Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild).

Appenine Yellow-bellied Toad
Appenine Yellow-bellied Toad
Appenine Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina pachypus) Listed as Endangered on the basis of rapid recent population declines, suspected to have been caused by the introduced fungal diseasechytridiomycosis. Photograph © Roberto Sindaco.
Among amphibians, a group that includes frogs, toads, salamanders and newts, two species have been classified as Critically Endangered: the Karpathos Frog (Pelophylax cerigensis) and the Montseny Brook Newt (Calotriton arnoldi), Spain's only endemic newt. Five more, including the Appenine yellow-bellied toad (Bombina pachypus) are Endangered, and 11 are classified as Vulnerable.

Amphibians and reptiles are doing even worse than other species groups: 15% of mammals and 13% birds are under threat. Other groups too are almost certainly in danger, but only these groups have been comprehensively assessed at the European level according to IUCN regional Red List guidelines.