The Importance of Research in Reptile Conservation

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Comprising turtles, crocodiles, lizards (including amphisbaenians) and snakes, reptiles are a diverse class with varying habitat affinities. They are disproportionately threatened in a small number of regions compared with other tetrapod classes.

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Prioritization analyses for birds, mammals and amphibians overlap broadly with reptiles. Consequently, conservation action taken for these groups can help conserve reptile species.

Habitat Protection

There is no disagreement in the ecological literature that sufficient habitat loss will eventually lead to species extinction, and therefore protecting existing reptile habitat should be a key strategy in conserving herpetofauna. This is true not only for the relatively few reptiles whose endangerment status has been established, but also for many of the more than 190 species assessed as Least Concern and Near Threatened.

A wide range of habitats are home to reptiles, from the desert sands of the Southwest to the wetlands of the Pacific Northwest and everything in between. However, the majority of these species live in forested habitats, where they face threats including logging, development and fire. As a result, forest-dwelling reptiles are more likely to be threatened with extinction than those living in arid habitats.

In addition to direct habitat loss, other threats include climate change (which can reduce thermally viable foraging windows), human activity (such as hunting and trade), disease and invasive species. Although these impacts are more pronounced for crocodiles and turtles, they are also prevalent in the case of many reptile species with range-restricted habitats.

We have learned that conservation efforts for other species, such as birds, mammals and amphibians, are more effective than expected at achieving co-benefits in the case of reptiles. This is partly due to the fact that range-restricted reptiles tend to be more isolated from other tetrapods, but it is also because their conservation needs are often more distinct and unique than those of other vertebrates.

Education

Reptiles have been misunderstood for too long, and successful conservation programs always include some form of 게코도마뱀 education. This may be aimed at specific groups (landowners, legislators) or at a wider community. Amphibian and reptile conservation is a good example of the need to educate widely: generations of prejudice, unwarranted fears and confusion about these animals create major barriers that must be overcome for effective recovery efforts to succeed.

Many reptiles are declining or even critically endangered, and their numbers in the wild need to be stabilized. This is a challenge for any conservation organization. Typically, these organizations will use scientific research to identify the reasons for the decline, and work toward solutions that can be implemented. Examples of these strategies would include creating or restoring habitat, or developing legislation that supports herpetofaunal conservation.

The recent studies of reptile cognition have provided some valuable insights into how these creatures perceive and interact with their environments. The findings show that reptiles have an amazing ability to learn about space and their surroundings. They also have a keen sense of color and smell, as well as good memory. This information can be used to aid in the development of new reptile conservation tools, such as spatially oriented feeding and bioregulation.

One example of this is a training program for goannas and blue-tongued skinks in Australia to avoid the deadly Bufonidae poison secreted by Cane Toads. Using aversion learning, trained reptiles learned to avoid the toad sausages, thus increasing their survival rate.

Research

Researchers and their students study reptiles and their habitats to better understand the species and improve their management. Research can be done at a local, provincial or national scale. Many research projects are developed by environmental NGOs, provincial and federal government agencies (e.g., fisheries, parks, conservation authorities, herpetology departments) and zoos and conservation foundations. Research is an important form of reptile conservation, particularly as herpetofauna worldwide continue to decline.

Amphibians have grabbed more headlines, but 41% of evaluated reptile species are considered Near Threatened, Threatened or Critically Endangered and 16% are data deficient globally1. Ubiquitous toxins, global warming, nonnative predators, habitat destruction, overcollection and disease are key contributors to the crisis. In addition, climate change impacts reptiles by reducing thermally viable foraging windows, skewing offspring sex ratios in snake species with temperature-dependent sex determination and contracting their ranges.

Efforts to conserve other threatened tetrapods (birds, mammals and amphibians) can benefit some reptiles, but conservation investments targeting uniquely occurring or requiring tailored policies must be implemented to address the crisis. We must also ensure that the conservation and recovery of reptiles is a priority within the global biodiversity agenda.

Prevention

Reptile conservation efforts often take the form of prevention, whether this involves ensuring natural habitats are protected or dispelling misconceptions about certain species, like snakes and crocodiles. This might include educating the public about how these species benefit ecosystems, and working with land owners to preserve habitat. Conservation groups also use scientific research to identify how specific reptiles become endangered or threatened, as well as solutions for their recovery.

Despite the many successes of conservation, reptiles continue to face serious threats from human activities. A recent global reptile assessment1 revealed that, on average, 21.1% of the 10,196 reptile species assessed are threatened with extinction. This figure is substantially higher than that for amphibians (40.7%), birds (24.9%), and mammals (13.6%).

The primary anthropogenic factors increasing a reptile’s extinction risk are habitat destruction, hunting, invasive species, and exploitation for local consumption or international trade. These threats are similar across all tetrapod groups, but tend to affect forest-dwelling reptiles more than arid ones. The invasive species threat is also greater for reptiles than for most other vertebrate groups.

As such, protection of all natural habitats is an important aspect of reptile conservation. This includes safeguarding sites that are crucial for the persistence of rare and sensitive species, such as desert tortoises or sylvatic salamanders. It is also important to reduce unsustainable harvest and halt the spread of invasive species.