Scientists Finish ‘Atlas of life’



Cyrtodactylus bintangtinggi, een gecko co-described by Olivier Pauwels in 2012. (photo: Lee Grismer)
Scientists Finish ‘Atlas of life’
post by
Jonas Van Boxel

An international team of researchers has made a catalogue of all reptiles on Earth. It is the last chapter in the ‘Atlas of life’, the first global review of all vertebrates on our planet. The atlas can be an important tool for the conservation of wildlife.

To protect the life on our planet, we must know what and where that life is. That is why scientists created maps with all known land vertebrates on our planet.

The catalogues of almost all known birds, mammals and amphibians have been finished since 2006, but it was long thought that many reptile species were too poorly known to be mapped.

Until now, because 39 scientists from 32 institutes published the reptile atlas in October. It contains more than 10.000 species of snakes, lizards and turtles. The new data finish the ‘Atlas of life’, an impressive overview with 31.000 species, including around 5.000 mammals, 10.000 birds and 6.000 frogs and salamanders.

Olivier Pauwels, curator of our collection of recent vertebrates, worked on the reptile catalogue. ‘Reptiles are amongst the least known terrestrial vertebrates, so we had to put all our respective knowledge and data together – for me mostly for Gabon, Kazakhstan, Thailand and their environs, where I have done extensive field work for many years.’

Problem Areas

Reptiles tend to have unusual distributions. Contrary to birds or mammals they often prefer hot and dry places, which are less studied by biologists. This study has identified locations where reptile diversity is in danger. They include the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, inland arid southern Africa and the Asian steppes.

‘This study has yielded unexpected results’, Pauwels says. ‘The distribution pattern of reptiles differs from that of other vertebrates and knowing the distribution of a species is extremely important to take decisions on its conservation. Geographic overlaps between a species’ distribution and protected areas are always good news. A species threatened by human activities (deforestation, hunting, etc.) with a small geographical distribution without overlaps with protected areas should receive priority in conservation programs.’

The final goal of this project is to create an interactive map, accessible for everyone. At this time, the IUCN works to classify all species in the atlas according to conservation status.

The study was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution 


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