SREL Reprint #2467




The global decline of reptiles, Déjà Vu amphibians

J. Whitfield Gibbons, David E. Scott, Travis J. Ryan, Kurt A. Buhlmann, Tracey D. Tuberville,
Brian S. Metts, Judith L. Greene, Tony Mills, Yale Leiden, Sean Poppy, and Christopher T. Winne

Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Aiken, SC 29802

Introduction: "As a group [reptiles] are neither 'good' nor 'bad,' but are interesting and unusual, although of minor importance. If they should all disappear, it would not make much difference one way or the other" (Zim and Smith 1953, p. 9). Fortunately, this opinion from the Golden Guide Series does not persist today; most people have come to recognize the value of both reptiles and amphibians as an integral part of natural ecosystems and as heralds of environmental quality (Gibbons and Stangel 1999). In recent years, as overall environmental awareness among the public has increased, concerns have come to include interest in the ecological state of reptile and amphibian species themselves and of their habitats. Increased awareness may stem from better education about threats to biodiversity in general, and to reptiles and amphibians in particular, and possibly even from an innate attraction to these taxa (Kellert and Wilson 1993).
From the perspective of many nonscientists, the two vertebrate classes comprising reptiles and amphibians, collectively referred to as the herpetofauna, are interchangeable. For example, the Boy Scout merit badge pamphlet for herpetology was called simply Reptile Study from 1926 to 1993 (Conant 1972, Gibbons 1993), and major zoos (e.g., National Zoo in Washington, DC; Zoo Atlanta; and San Diego Zoo) use only the name "reptile" to refer to the facility that houses both amphibians and reptiles. Thus, public attitudes about the need for conservation of reptiles are probably linked to concern about amphibian declines and deformities (Alford and Richards 1999, Johnson et al. 1999, Sessions et al. 1999), which have been the subject of numerous, well-documented scientific studies.
Because amphibians are distributed worldwide, but herpetologists who document amphibian declines are not, it is difficult to accurately assess what portion of amphibian populations are experiencing significant declines or have already disappeared. Furthermore, the means of determining a species' conservation status is a rigorous and time-intensive process, and therefore counts of "officially" recognized endangered and threatened species are likely to underestimate the actual number of imperiled species (Table 1). The worldwide amphibian decline problem, as it has come to be known, has garnered significant attention not only among scientists but also in the popular media and in political circles. . . .

SREL Reprint #2467

Gibbons, J. W., D. E. Scott, T. J. Ryan, K. A. Buhlmann, T. D. Tuberville, B. S. Metts, J. L. Greene, T. Mills, Y. Leiden, S. Poppy, and C. Winne. 2000. The global decline of reptiles, Déjà Vu amphibians. BioScience 50:653-666.

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