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One-fifth of world's vertebrates are threatened, but there is hope

October 26, 2010 |  5:37 pm

Condor Things aren't looking particularly rosy for the world's vertebrates: Scientists report that a fifth of them of are at risk of extinction. But the outlook for those animals -- which include amphibians, birds, fishes, mammals and reptiles -- would have been even bleaker without conservation efforts, the researchers said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature periodically surveys biodiversity worldwide and categorizes species on its so-called Red List based on their extinction risk. A new update compiles data for 25,780 vertebrate species: all mammals, amphibians, birds and cartilaginous fishes -- such as sharks -- and about 1,500 species each of reptiles and bony fish.

Amphibians are the most at risk, with 30% of species threatened. Of mammals, reptiles and fish, 21% are threatened, as are 12% of birds. On average, 52 species of mammals, birds and amphibians move one category closer to extinction each year.

But the outlooks improved for 68 species, including the humpback whale and the California condor -- offering some hope that thoughtful intervention can reverse extinction risk trends, scientists said.

The research was published Tuesday in the journal Science as politicians gathered in Nagoya, Japan, for the United Nations’ 10th Convention on Biological Diversity. The summit -- a sort of Copenhagen climate conference for biodiversity -- seeks to set conservation goals for 2020.

Read more on vertebrate biodiversity and the Nagoya talks.

-- Eryn Brown

Photo: The California condor is one of 68 species whose extinction risk has improved, according to new research.

Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press