Due to climate change, more animals will become extinct outside of nature reserves than within them

TAU researcher participates in study covering more than 14,000 species of amphibians and reptiles

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A Tel Aviv University (TAU) researcher was among those conducting a new international study that found that amphibians and reptiles inhabiting the world’s nature reserves, or Protected Areas (PAs), will be better protected against climate change than species found outside of these areas, but are still likely to be harmed.

The research findings provide evidence, on a global scale, of the crucial role PAs play in conserving amphibian and reptile biodiversity under human-induced climate change scenarios. The study reveals that more animals will become extinct as a result of climate change outside of PAs than inside them, in the world in general and on most individual continents.

Professor Shai Meiri of TAU’s School of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History took part in the study in collaboration with leading researchers from 19 countries. The study was published on March 13, 2023, in the journal Nature Communications.

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness of existing PAs in protecting the amphibians and reptiles living within them under future climate scenarios, as well as to identify conservation gaps in order to outline a road map for the development of conservation actions based on the current global network of Protected Areas.

“In this study, we collected distribution data for more than 14,000 species of amphibians and reptiles — about 70 percent of the known species — to perform a global assessment of the conservation effectiveness of PAs in an era of climate change, using species distribution models,” Professor Meiri says. “Our analyses revealed that approximately 91 percent of the amphibian and reptile species we examined are protected, to some degree, in PAs, and that this proportion will remain unchanged under future climate change. Furthermore, species protected in PAs will lose smaller portions of their distribution ranges inside the nature reserve than outside of them. Therefore, the proportion of species within reserves is expected to increase.”

However, Professor Meiri points out, “We predict that more than 300 of the amphibian species and 500 of the reptile species we studied will become extinct due to climate change in the coming decades, and probably also hundreds of species for which we did not have sufficient data to model. Our research highlights the importance of PAs in providing refuge for amphibians and reptiles despite climate change, and points out areas where there are not enough nature reserves that can better preserve biodiversity around the world.

“We compiled a comprehensive global database with more than 3.5 million observation records spanning 5,403 amphibian species and 8,993 reptile species from online databases, fieldwork data, museum collections, and published references. For all species in our database, we predicted habitat availability according to current climate data and future scenarios at a high spatial resolution using species distribution models. Then, we evaluated the effectiveness of PAs in conserving amphibians and reptiles by calculating the coverage of their distribution range inside and outside of PAs, as well as the proportion of species for whom a significant portion of their distribution range is protected in PAs under current and future climate conditions.

“Our evidence shows that the current global network of PAs already plays an important role in preserving the global biodiversity of amphibians and reptiles, and will continue to do so under the expected future climate,” Professor Meiri concludes. “However, many species do not live in the existing PAs. These include, for example, many amphibians and reptiles in Mexico, Jamaica, the Andes, West Africa, South Africa, the southern and northern coast of Turkey, Yemen, and other places. Moreover, in our study we could create a model for only about two-thirds of reptile and amphibian species. Good models can’t be created for the rarest species, which are known to be more vulnerable to extinction and less protected in PAs.

“At the same time, it is important to remember that despite the relative optimism emerging from the new research, the models still predict extremely high rates of loss of species and habitats due to climate change. PAs do indeed protect the animals living within them, but nothing is foolproof.”