SOLUTIONS: Reptiles survival

By Huck Fairman

As many recognize, humans are changing the natural world, and by doing so
are threatening its very survival.

A recent report, again on the PBS Newshour, warned that globally 1 in 5 reptile species
is facing extinction. This was the conclusion of a study published in the scientific journal Nature.

The two essential, resulting questions were: what is driving this extinction crisis, and what could it mean for the rest of the world?

The report began by looking at the Komodo Dragon, in this case living in the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC. The Dragon is the world’s largest lizard, whose home was islands in Indonesia. It can grow to 300 pounds and dates back one million years. But now, facing habitat loss, its future is uncertain.

One of the reasons to study the Komodo, and other reptiles, is that they are important to
ecosystems. They are considered “keystones” because without them, the rest of a particular ecosystem doesn’t function. Their roles in ecosystems are to help maintain population diversity, create new or additional habitats, and allow other species to flourish. If they disappear, there can be a climate effect. Many reptiles eat and control small mammal populations and insects, and in that way are beneficial to ecosystems.

Bruce Young co-authored the largest reptile study, working with over 900 scientists worldwide, over 17 years. That study found that 21% of the world’s reptile species, 1,800 species, face extinction. What are the reasons for that? Loss of habitat is a primary one, especially forest habitats where heavily logged. The expansion of agriculture is another cause.

Bruce Young warns that only by wide, governmental intervention can these trends be controlled.

Locally, turtles are among the most endangered species, with 60% facing extinction. They are in need of “targeted” conservation efforts.

The PBS report looked at Wood Turtles in Western Maryland. There again the threats were: habitat loss, but also road kill, collecting for the pet trade and of course climate change.

Human development adds to all of those problems.

The impacts on the turtles themselves were also concerning. Scientists searching for them and studying them found few young turtles and few males, in place of the healthy 50-50 distribution of the sexes. Again the heat from climate change was attributed.

Another impact on the turtles came from an increase in predators. (Locally in Princeton,
many residents have seen an unprecedented presence of foxes in our neighborhoods and even at the university.) And this phenomenon of predators has been observed around the globe. Many predators apparently feed on the turtle nests.

While scientists studying reptiles note that they survived the asteroid that wiped out the
dinosaurs, there is now some question whether they will survive us. Will they have the space they need?

Furthermore, a loss of biodiversity, which turtles and reptiles are a part of, threatens our sources of food and medicines, as well as ecosystems themselves. It is essential, therefore, for us to protect as much of the natural world as we can. While we, according to the report, still have time, the report urges us to change our behaviors toward nature … now.

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