Mammal-Extinction Danger Zones Revealed in New Map

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News
March 6, 2006

A team of biologists has identified 20 hot spots around the world where mammal species, while not yet appearing threatened, are likely to be at high risk of extinction in decades to come.

Marcel Cardillo, a biologist at Imperial College in London, and his colleagues mapped areas where species appear safe today but may be seriously vulnerable to future changes.

"The potential importance of this is in identifying species or areas most likely to become threatened in the future, so we can take preventive action," Cardillo said.

The team isolated these regions by assessing which mammal species are most susceptible to human-caused disturbances, like pollution and habit destruction, as well as where such disturbances are currently taking place.

To illustrate the results, Cardillo's team produced a map showing the hot spots of this extinction risk.

The map shows some unexpected patterns. Hot spots are concentrated in the far north—particularly in Alaska and northern Canada—and across much of southeast Asia from Sumatra and Borneo to New Guinea.

"This surprised us, because the two areas seemingly have little in common," Cardillo said.

"What unites them is a high discrepancy between current and predicted risk."

The study appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Risk Assessment

Global conservation efforts typically focus on identifying biodiversity hot spots—areas where many unique species are present and rates of habitat loss or other disturbance are high. (See National Geographic map: priority areas for conservation.)

Such an approach makes sense for protecting the largest number of critically endangered species. But Cardillo's team argues that such hot-spot-based planning alone may not be sufficiently farsighted.

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