World's most distinct mammals and amphibians mapped

BBC 16 May 13;

Scientists have developed the first map of the world's most unique and most endangered mammals and amphibians.

The map highlights the fact that only a fraction of the areas identified as critical for the conservation of these species are protected.

Among the species highlighted by the map are the Mexican salamander, the Sunda pangolin and the black and white ruffed Lemur.

The research is published in the journal Plos One.

The Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project has been developed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to highlight species that are both distinctive and under severe threat.

The map highlights the regions of the world where the highest concentrations of these species occur and which should be priorities for conservation efforts.

"If you look at mammals, if you look at just evolutionary history, the species that are more different from all others, the deep rooted ones tend to be in South America," Prof Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at ZSL told BBC News.

"But if you incorporate threat, then the focus changes to South East Asia and the reason is that land conversion has been so rapid there due to things like palm oil that a lot of these species are highly threatened - they come up to the top when you add threat as a variable."

As well as highlighting the fact that the priority areas for mammals and amphibians are different, the map also underlines how little of the areas that are identified as priorities for these distinct creatures are protected. Only 5% of the regions that are priorities for mammals are conserved, and just 15% for amphibians.

"We've tried to draw attention to a range of species that are on the verge of extinction, that most people haven't heard of or are doing anything about," said Prof Baillie.

"So something like a pangolin a beautiful creature the size of a small dog, it has scales all over its body and lives in trees - it's taken for the Chinese medicinal trade."

Other obscure creatures making it onto the map include Madagascar's black and white ruffed lemur, which is threatened by loss of its forest habitat due to logging and mining.

Amphibians are suffering a "terrifying" rate of extinction say the researchers, making them the most threatened vertebrates in the world. The Mexican salamander or axolotl is being threatened by expanding cities, pollution and invasive fish species which eat their young.

While many of the survival issues facing species highlighted on the map are extremely challenging, sometimes small changes can make a big difference.

Prof Baillie highlights the example of a small worm like amphibian from Kenya called the Sagalla caecilian.

"It was just losing its habitat because the native trees were taken, so we've started a programme of replanting the native trees and 6,000 have been replanted and the areas where they have their strongholds are now being protected."

"That kind of simple action can ensure that those species can be there hopefully for hundred of years to come."