By John Kessler
Scientists have conducted a new study of endangered vertebrate species. The goal is to find out what consequences await the Earth if they disappear.
The number of vertebrate species in different regions of the world varies greatly, as does the proportion of species that are endangered. In some regions – the tropics – there are more of them than in others. The vulnerability of ecosystems to the loss of species depends not only on the number of species, but also on their ecological role. They depend on the characteristics of the species; their size, weight, shape, fertility or food resources used.
To understand how different regions of the world will be affected by the extinction of endangered vertebrates, scientists collected data on the characteristics of 50 thousand vertebrate species and their distribution in six main biogeographic regions. They then compared whether the loss of endangered species would have similar implications for functional diversity in each biogeographic area for each group of vertebrates. They published their findings in Nature Communications.
The five groups of vertebrates – mammals, reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish – will be affected differently in different kingdoms. For example, in the Indo-Malay region, mammals and birds will be most affected by extinction. And in the Palaearctic kingdom, reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish will suffer from the extinction of species.
The Indo-Malay kingdom is not only home to the largest number of endangered vertebrates on Earth, but also endangered species with unique functional features. Their loss would endanger fragile ecosystems. The study authors note that their work highlights the need for action to conserve biodiversity in Asia.