An international team of scientists, including New College of Florida’s Dr. Tiffany Doan, have completed the “atlas of life” – the first global review and map of every vertebrate on Earth, a vital tool in identifying regions for global conservation efforts.
The 39 scientists have produced a catalog and atlas of all the world’s reptiles – more than 10,000 species of lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises. It was perhaps the most challenging piece of the project: The maps of habitats of birds, mammals and amphibians have been completed since 2006, but it was widely thought that many reptile species were too poorly known to be mapped.
Doan, visiting assistant professor of biology at New College, was one of the original members of the Global Assessment of Reptile Distributions working group. Their article “The Global Distribution of Tetrapods Reveals a Need for Targeted Reptile Conservation” appears in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, published Oct. 9.
Doan was in charge of mapping all species of lizards and snakes from Peru and Bolivia. “When we set out to take on this task of mapping the world’s reptiles, we knew it would be difficult because we would have to search through every record and natural history museum to find distribution data for all of the species,” she said. “Even so, we were excited to undertake the mapping, because getting that information out there is critical to making conservation decisions about such an important group of animals.”
Doan worked with scientists from the University of Oxford School of Geography, Tel Aviv University and 30 other institutions to produce the new reptile atlas. She was the only woman among the original 21 researchers on the project.
“Mapping the distributions of all reptiles was considered too difficult to tackle,” said Professor Shai Meiri of Tel Aviv University, who first planned the project more than ten years ago. “But thanks to a team of experts on the lizards and snakes of some of the most poorly known regions of the world we managed to achieve this, and hopefully contribute to the conservation of these often elusive vertebrates that suffer from persecution and prejudice.”
The data completes the world map of 31,000 species of humanity’s closest relatives, including around 5,000 mammals, 10,000 birds and 6,000 frogs and salamanders.
The map has revealed unexpected trends and regions of biodiversity fragility. They include the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, inland arid southern Africa, the Asian steppes, the central Australian deserts; the Brazilian caatinga scrubland, and the high southern Andes.
Co-author Richard Grenyer, associate professor in biodiversity and biogeography at Oxford University, said the maps have also allowed conservationists to ask whether environmental efforts to date have been invested in the right way, and how they could be used most effectively.
“Thanks to tools like our atlas, scientists can for the first time look at the terrestrial Earth in its entirety, and make informed decisions about how to use conservation funding. This is not to say that the work done to date has been inaccurate: based on our knowledge at the time, conservationists have often made some really good decisions. But now conservation has the data and tools required to bring planning up to the same level as the businesses and governments who might have an eye on land for other uses.”
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is currently classifying the species featured in the map with a rating, from “critically endangered” to “least concern”. Once this work is complete, the interactive resource will be freely available for public access and use. Moving forward, its creation will allow a range of stakeholders, from countries, to conservation organizations, businesses and individuals, to understand the biodiversity in their surrounding environment, its importance and crucially, what they can do to better protect it.