When someone brings up endangered species, the first things to pop into your head are likely the sad faces of Bengal tigers, black rhinos or giant pandas. But believe it or not, these mammals only represent a very small demographic of animals threatened by the rapidly changing world.
There exists a whole world of vulnerable species that remain ignored as the media focuses all its attention on the more ‘popular’ species. And a recent study has highlighted just how dire the predicament of the lesser known species is, suggesting that more than half of all unassessable species may be at risk of extinction!
Classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as ‘Data Deficient’ species, this group offers insufficient information for a proper assessment of conservation status to be made. And 56% of these Data Deficient species are suspected to be on the verge of extinction.
In order to determine the extinction risk of 26,363 species that have previously been evaluated for the IUCN Red List, Jan Borgelt and his team created a machine learning system.
The calculations were based on previously released information about the geographic regions in which the species are found, as well as on elements known to have an impact on biodiversity, such as climate change, human land use, and threats from invasive species. After that, the researchers applied their technique to forecast extinction risks for all 7,699 species with insufficient data.
According to them, 4,336 (or 56%) of the Data Deficient species are probably endangered. In contrast, according to the IUCN Red List, 28% of the species it has evaluated are in danger of going extinct.
Extinction risks for Data Deficient species varied by category and geographic region, with a likelihood of extinction of 85% for amphibians, 40% for ray-finned fish, 61% for mammals, 59% for reptiles, and 62% for insects. Land-dwelling species in danger of going extinct often live in narrower geographic areas within regions like Madagascar, central Africa, and southern Asia.
Further, estimates suggested that between one-third and 50% of the marine species with insufficient data were in danger of going extinct.
The study shows the conservation importance of many Data Deficient species that are likely threatened by extinction, but are not classified as threatened by the IUCN. And it throws light on the potential biases in current conservation priorities.
The study’s authors think more precise evaluations of these species might aid in shifting conservation priorities and make it easier for them to be incorporated into biodiversity and sustainable development agendas.
The findings of this study are published in Communications Biology and can be accessed here.
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