Our data scientist Matthias Biber and our group leader Christian Hof have, together with their colleague Alke Voskamp from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt, made the effort of tackling a (big) data challenge on reptiles to learn how the distribution and diversity of reptiles worldwide will likely develop under a changing climate. The time span in question runs over 85 years, modelling states of reptile distributions and species richness in 1995, 2050 and 2080, therefore illustrating a trend that is to be taken seriously.
In view of the fact that the threatened survival of reptile habitats, but also the hunting of species and other anthropological disturbances represent major obstacles to the irreplaceable living conditions of reptiles already today (Böhm et al. 2013), this research project is all the more important.To investigate the potential future of reptile distributions at a global scale, the authors used species distribution models – statistical models that correlate species occurrence data with environmental conditions and project potential distributions under future climate trajectories. According to the models of 6,296 reptile species, their distributions and diversity may not only go down worldwide, but also in most zoogeographic realms. South Africa, Australia and Brazil show the greatest degrees of decrease in species richness.
However, the models could not deal with all species: for 3,768 species with a geographic distribution that precluded their use in species distribution models, the future development in climatic conditions within a species’ current geographic distribution was assessed. When comparing this between modelled and non-modelled species, it turned out that the latter, i.e. the range-restricted species, will be much more affected by future climatic changes.
What can we do to stop the ongoing and projected future decline of reptile species richness, which is to be taking place in most regions of the world?
Taking into account that reptiles are not distributed ‘evenly’ across our globe, mainly due to their demands on their habitats, they must be expected to maintain themselves less through dispersal and adaption in the future compared to what some other species may be able to do. Therefore, the study underlines – apart from the obvious call for global climate change mitigation – the necessity of conserving existent habitats, especially for reptiles, on a global scale.
Read the paper here!
Böhm, M., Collen, B., Baillie, J.E., Bowles, P., Chanson, J., Cox, N., Hammerson, G., Hoffmann, M., Livingstone, S.R., Ram, M. & others (2013) The conservation status of the world’s reptiles. Biological Conservation, 157, 372–385.