Can Global Protected Areas be refuges for amphibians and reptiles under climate change?

Published in Ecology & Evolution
Can Global Protected Areas be refuges for amphibians and reptiles under climate change?

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Climate change now looms as one of the greatest threats to global biodiversity. The development of global-scale analyses aimed to identify sensitive species and important geographic regions for determining the most effective conservation actions of biodiversity worldwide. Protected Areas (PAs) – geographic regions legally designated for the protection of biodiversity and cultural resources – play an essential role in maintaining global biodiversity, underpinning conservation programs worldwide to mitigate the different impacts, including climate change. On a global scale, the role of PAs is invaluable in climate change for species and analyzing the effectiveness of PAs for this. Amphibians and reptiles are highly sensitive to the altered temperatures that may result from climate change. PAs are very important for protecting amphibians and reptiles around the world, and their effectiveness in protecting the global herpetofauna from climate change has been evaluated in some regions and groups but with significant limitations that have prevented a comprehensive global assessment of the role of PAs across these taxonomic groups worldwide.

To fill the existing gaps, we provided a comprehensive, global assessment of the effectiveness of Protected Areas (PAs) in conserving reptiles and amphibians currently and in the face of future climate change over the course of the ongoing century. We compiled a comprehensive global database with observation records of amphibian and reptile species from different resources (e.g. online databases, fieldwork data, museum collections, and published references). We used species distribution models (SDMs), an approach widely used to quantify the responses of species under climate change to derive the distribution ranges and used climatic variables representing current and future climate conditions to estimate the distribution of these groups. The increasing availability of datasets and environmental factors allows the development of robust predictions on how change ranges will be affected by environmental change. Our study is a global cooperation that includes 38 co -authors from 5 continents.

As a result, we collated distributional data for >14,000 (~70%) species of amphibians and reptiles to perform a global assessment of the conservation effectiveness of PAs using species distribution models. Our most important prediction is that more than 300 amphibian and 500 reptile species may go extinct under climate change over the course of the ongoing century. Our analyses revealed that >91% of herpetofauna species are currently distributed in PAs, and that this proportion will remain unaltered under future climate change. The present study reveals that the proportion of amphibian and reptile habitats contained within PAs is expected to increase under climate change across the globe and in most continents. We suggest that the mechanism behind this result is that habitats outside PA boundaries will be lost due to climate change at a higher rate than habitats inside PAs. The proportion of the remaining habitats that fall within PAs will be higher after climate change than before. Furthermore, we found that over 7.8% of species currently occur outside PAs and over 70% of species that have benchmark amounts of habitat (e.g., 15% or 30% of habitat protected) in PAs. In addition, there are large spatial conservation gaps remaining, mainly across tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, and across non-high-income countries (e.g., Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, South Africa, India, Myanmar, and China). Instead, these findings suggest that larger habitat areas outside the PA network may be degraded due to land conversion or extractive activities of natural resources, making current PAs even more important for amphibian and reptile species' survival in the future.

The expansion of the global PAs network is highly necessary to protect herpetofauna, especially for unprotected regions (like tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests). These regions should be the priority locations for future PA adjustments to better conservation of biodiversity. Finally, further attention to the plight of rare or small-ranged species (that lack sufficient distributional records) is a priority for future research because these species are more likely to be at a high extinction risk.

Fig. 1. Common Chinese tree frog (Hyla chinensis). Photo by Lu yuan Ge.


Fig. 2. Northern grass lizard (Takydromus septentrionalis) from China. Photo by Luyuan Ge.


Fig. 3. Climate change impacts on the percentage of species range (area of habitat) inside and outside PAs by 2070. (A) Percent of species range change inside and outside PA; (B) Percent of predicted species range in PAs at present and by 2070.


Fig. 4. Conservation gaps for global herpetofauna by 2070. Colors represent the area of conservation gaps in countries, and circle sizes represent the percentage of conservation gap area with respect to the land area in countries.

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