Extinction "Hotspots" Revealed in New Study

December 12, 2005

Extinct.

This moniker of doom is destined for 794 species of animals and trees currently eking out an existence in 595 sites around the world, conservationists warned today.

Creatures in impending danger include whooping cranes on a Texas tidal flat, a type of rabbit on a Mexican volcano, penguins in the Galápagos Islands, and a species of pine tree in Australia.

"All these are spots where extinction is likely to strike next if we don't do anything," said Taylor Ricketts, director of science for the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C.

"That 'if we dont do anything' is the big part of this idea," he added. "These places present the most clear opportunity to slow down and stem the extinction episode we are in now."

Ricketts and colleagues with the recently formed conservation group Alliance for Zero Extinction will publish their findings in the December 20 issue of the research journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper pinpoints centers of imminent extinction, detailing which species are in peril and where they live.

According to Ricketts, the work suggests an immediate "no-brainer" strategy for preventing the looming extinctions at these sites: Protect the habitat that remains.

Stuart Pimm is a conservation ecologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He said the paper "does an outstanding job of identifying" tangible priority areas for conservation. "This is a hugely important contribution," he added.

Known Species and Sites

Sites included in the study have definable boundaries and contain within those bounds at least one internationally recognized endangered or critically endangered species.

The sites also represent habitats that are essential for the species' survival. Most of the sites are the only areas where a certain species is known to live or where a lone population of a migratory species, such as the whooping crane, spends part of the year.

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