Scientists have completed a catalog of the world’s reptiles, meaning we now have an atlas of all vertebrates on Earth.
Published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, the research was led by the University of Oxford and Tel Aviv University. Previously thought impossible, experts on lizards and snakes helped map some of the most poorly known regions in the world.
The new reptile atlas includes 10,000 species of snakes, lizards, turtles, and tortoises. This data also completes a world map of 31,000 of our closest relatives, including 5,000 mammals, 10,000 birds, and 6,000 frogs and salamanders.
It’s not just for fun, though. The goal of the atlas is to provide detailed information on where vertebrates live on Earth so we can better identify where conservation action needs to be taken. Using this atlas, researchers can now identify key areas that need to be addressed.
“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,” Dr Richard Grenyer from the University of Oxford said in a statement.
The map has already revealed unexpected trends and regions of biodiversity fragility. For example, some of the newly identified areas include drylands and deserts, which lizards tend to prefer. These aren't priority regions for birds and mammals, so they weren't known before.
“Our results suggest that reptiles, and particularly lizards and turtles, need to be better incorporated into conservation schemes,” the team wrote in their paper. Modern activities like irrigation, solar power development, and war make these areas challenging to work in.
The plan is to make an interactive version of the map free to the public. This could help educate businesses and conservation organizations on how to preserve biodiversity in particular environments. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is in the process of giving each species an endangered rating.
“The complete distributions of terrestrial tetrapods we now possess could greatly enhance our ability to study, understand and protect nature,” the researchers concluded in their paper.