Reptile Conservation

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Reptiles are amazingly diverse, living in deserts, oceans, forests and cities. They can grow to be quite large, ranging from the slender blind snake that matures at just over 4 1/2 inches to komodo dragons that may reach 10 feet or more in length.

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Comprehensive extinction-risk assessments for amphibians, mammals and birds exist1, but reptiles have generally been excluded from conservation-prioritization analyses2. This has led to suboptimal conservation strategies2. .

Habitat

Comprising the crocodilian clade (Crocodylia), squamate lizard and snake groups and the tuatara of New Zealand, reptiles are a paraphyletic class with diverse body forms, habitat affinities and functional roles in ecosystems11. A global assessment shows that more than half of reptile species are threatened with extinction, comparable to amphibians and mammals, but that reptiles have been excluded from conservation-priority analyses because of their low numbers, and the absence of comprehensive global assessments2.

Across their ranges, reptiles require a diverse and abundant supply of suitable habitats to sustain populations. These include wetlands, riparian areas, upland sites with a variety of microhabitats including leaf litter and woody debris, animal burrows and rock piles, and sheltered places where they can hide from predators and bask during extreme heat or cold.

In our human-altered world, the creation and management of habitat that supports reptiles can help mitigate their conservation needs. For example, restoring riparian areas and broad uncultivated margins to hedgerows can provide important antipredation refuges for lizards; removing invasive plants from landscapes and managing their return to natural fire regimes may enhance reptile habitat; preserving a diversity of ground vegetation can benefit reptiles by providing a variety of microhabitats, including shelters and different ground temperatures; and providing corridors between these sites is helpful for the movement of both large reptiles and neotropical migrants.

Food

Herpetofauna are among the most endangered species worldwide. Ubiquitous toxins, global warming, nonnative predators, overcollection and habitat destruction are all factors contributing to their decline.

Herbivorous reptiles, like lizards and tortoises, have shown an ability to learn about their environments. Research on spatial cognition reveals that reptiles can remember 게코도마뱀 rewarding foraging patches, follow social cues and opportunistically locate fruit-rich plants. Such abilities may help reptiles better regulate their environments by detecting changes in the food supply and adapting accordingly.

Wildlife-friendly land management practices can benefit reptiles by conserving small wooded patches, field margins and other natural features where reptiles seek resources such as prey or shelter. Similarly, conservation of aquatic habitats can provide critical habitat for many species, including water turtles and fish.

The Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and other museums with permanent herpetological collections play an important role in collecting, preserving and displaying specimens to promote awareness of reptiles and their conservation needs. While many individuals with a casual interest in herpetology can collect herpetological specimens, they often lack the knowledge needed to properly prepare and preserve them for study and display.

Comprehensive extinction risk assessments for birds, mammals and amphibians have documented the extinction crisis and underpinned strategies to reduce those risks2. Reptiles, however, have been neglected, largely due to the lack of global assessment programs3 and conservation-prioritization analyses that do not include reptilian data4. In fact, a recent global assessment found that one-fifth of reptilian species are threatened with extinction5. Moreover, the high diversity of arid regions in the world’s reptile fauna suggests that they may require different conservation approaches and strategies from other tetrapods6,7.

Protection

The conservation of reptiles depends on habitat protection, which requires a variety of tools. Many of these are similar to those used for amphibians. For example, management of invasive species to retain open space and sun-exposure can improve reptile habitat and survival. Control of human disturbances to reduce the impacts of roads, buildings and wind turbines also is critical.

As with tetrapods, the primary anthropogenic factors increasing extinction risk for reptiles are habitat destruction (mainly agriculture and logging) and hunting. However, for some groups, notably turtles and crocodiles, threats that cause habitat degradation rather than destruction are more important.

While the majority of threatened reptiles occur in forest-dwelling habitats, their conservation needs can be met with the same kinds of conservation actions that benefit other tetrapods, such as improving land use planning to avoid conversion to agriculture, restoring or creating corridors between protected areas and reducing disturbances at site level. In fact, recent research indicates that conservation action aimed at other tetrapods will likely co-benefit the majority of threatened reptiles.

Like all vertebrates, reptiles are ambassadors for the conservation of their ecosystems. They are often misunderstood or poorly understood, and this contributes to negative public values and attitudes that result in persecution and anti-conservation behaviors. Despite this, studies have shown that when people connect with wildlife they become more willing to support its conservation.

Education

Reptiles are a relatively neglected group of animals. Although amphibian declines have grabbed the headlines, a recent study in Nature found that more than 41% of assessed reptile species are either Near Threatened or Threatened (Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered).

The fact is, we know less about these creatures than about birds, mammals and amphibians, and this has resulted in fewer conservation successes for reptiles than for other taxonomic groups. The good news is that, unlike amphibians, most reptile species can breed in captivity, and the herpetoculture community has the experience to sustain viable captive populations of all species.

This knowledge can help us understand how to save wild populations. For example, by adding minuscule amounts of estrogen to turtle and gecko eggs, researchers skewed the sex ratio towards females and successfully increased breeding populations of endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles, freshwater Cagle’s map turtles, New Caledonian gecko and commercially-farmed mugger crocodile.

Another important tool is public education. For example, teaching kids to identify frogs and toads can encourage them to take action by preserving the habitat they need to survive. This resource document on Field Herping Etiquette by Midwest PARC and this Amphibian Inventory Guide by Project WILD provide great tools for educators looking to engage students in herp conservation. Creating habitat for herps in backyards, schools or community spaces is also an easy way to support herps and amphibians.