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New study pinpoints extinction epicentres

The science is in, and we are almost out of time

Safeguarding 595 sites around the world would help stave off an imminent global extinction crisis, according to new research published late in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Conducted by scientists working with the 52 member organizations of the Alliance for Zero Extinction (which includes BirdLife International and a number of BirdLife Partners), the study identifies 794 species threatened with imminent extinction, each of which is in need of urgent conservation action at a single remaining site on Earth.

The AZE study found that just one-third of the sites are known to have legal protection, and most are surrounded by human population densities that are approximately three times the global average. Conserving these 595 sites should be an urgent global priority involving everyone from national governments to local communities, the study’s authors state.

Particular concentrations of sites are found in the Andes of South America, in Brazil’s Atlantic Forests, throughout the Caribbean, and in Madagascar. With 63 however, Mexico holds the most sites. The United States also ranks among the ten countries with the most sites (18 sites).The relevance of the AZE appoach can currently be seen in India, where one of the AZE species is under threat. The only known site for the critically endangered Jerdon's Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus (an enigmatic, nocturnal wading bird, rediscovered in 1986 having not been seen for almost a century) has come under threat from a new irrigation canal.

"We now know where the emergencies are: the species that will be tomorrow’s dodos unless we act quickly. The good news is we still have time to protect them." said Taylor Ricketts , Lead author of the AZE study

"Although saving sites and species is vitally important in itself, this is about much more," said Mike Parr, Secretary of AZE. "At stake are the future genetic diversity of Earth’s ecosystems, the global ecotourism economy worth billions of dollars per year, and the incalculable benefit of clean water from hundreds of key watersheds. This is a one-shot deal for the human race," he added. "We have a moral obligation to act. The science is in, and we are almost out of time."Among the 794 imperilled mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and conifers are monkey-faced bats, cloud rats, golden moles, poison frogs, exotic parrots and hummingbirds, a hamster and a dormouse, a penguin, crocodiles, iguanas, monkeys, and a rhinoceros. Among the most intriguingly-named are: the Bloody Bay Poison Frog, the Volcano Rabbit, the Ruo River Screeching Frog, the Bramble Cay Mosaic-tailed Rat, the Marvellous Spatuletail (a hummingbird), and the Sulu Bleeding-heart (a dove).

Among the most unusual threats are volcanic eruptions, which threaten to destroy the forest habitat of the Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi, a Critically Endangered Caribbean bird species which numbers just 200-800 individuals.

While extinction is a natural process, the authors note that current human-caused rates of species loss are 100-1,000 times greater than natural rates. In recent history, most species extinctions have occurred on isolated islands following the introduction of invasive predators such as cats and rats. This study shows that the extinction crisis has now expanded to become a full-blown assault on Earth’s major land masses, with the majority of at-risk sites and species now found on continental mountains and in lowland areas. Also published are a site map and a report that details the actions required to save these sites and species. These items, along with a searchable database of sites, web links and media contacts for the Alliance’s 52 member organizations, and photos of AZE sites and species for media use, can be found at: http://www.zeroextinction.org

4th July 2014