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One-Fifth Of World’s Vertebrates Facing Extinction

October 27, 2010

Nearly one out of every five vertebrates in the world are currently threatened with extinction–and things would be worse were it not for the efforts of conservationists across the globe–a new study set to be published in the journal Science has discovered.

The research, carried out by a team of 174 international scientists, analyzed data from some 25,000 species currently listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species to discover the status of various mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish throughout the years.

They discovered that currently, approximately 20 percent of all vertebrates are classified as Threatened, meaning that they are categorized as Endangered, Critically Endangered, or Vulnerable. Those figures include a quarter of all mammal species on Earth, one-third of all cartilaginous fish species, and four out of every ten amphibians. Furthermore, 22 percent of all reptiles, 15 percent of all bony fishes, and 13 percent of all avian species are included in one of the Red Lists’ Threatened categories.

However, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the California Academy of Sciences, the home institution for study contributor and mammalogist Dr. Galen Rathbun, “the team reports that species losses and declines would have been 20 percent worse in the absence of conservation efforts to protect threatened species. Thus, while current conservation efforts remain insufficient to offset the main drivers of biodiversity loss–including habitat loss, over-exploitation, and invasive alien species–targeted conservation efforts have had a measurable positive impact on the planet’s vertebrate species.”

“This paper is proof that conservation is working,” co-author Jonathan Baillie, the Director of Conservation Programs at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), said in a statement. “Now we have to scale-up our efforts to match the unprecedented threats faced by the natural world.”

Leading the research project was Dr. Michael Hoffmann of the IUCN, a global environmental network founded in 1948. Joining Hoffman, Rathbun, and Baillie on the project were 171 co-authors from 115 different institutions and organizations in more than three-dozen countries. The study can currently be viewed online at the Science Express website.

Image Caption: The gray-faced sengi (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis) is known to exist in only two populations that cover about 300 square kilometers (115 square miles) of forest in Tanzania, in the Udzungwa Mountains. It was described in 2008 by California Academy of Sciences mammalogists Dr. Galen Rathbun. This charismatic mammal is just one of many species in need of protection in the Udzungwa Mountains, which serve as an important dry-season refuge for many animals from adjacent areas. A recent survey suggests that the few remaining wildlife corridors linking the mountains to surrounding protected areas are critically threatened, and will be lost imminently without intervention. Credit: California Academy of Sciences

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