The distributions of amphibians, birds and mammals have underpinned global and local conservation priorities, and have been fundamental to our understanding of the determinants of global biodiversity. In contrast, the global distributions of reptiles, representing a third of terrestrial vertebrate diversity, have been unavailable. This prevented the incorporation of reptiles into conservation planning and biased our understanding of the underlying processes governing global vertebrate biodiversity. Here, we present and analyse the global distribution of 10,064 reptile species (99% of extant terrestrial species). We show that richness patterns of the other three tetrapod classes are good spatial surrogates for species richness of all reptiles combined and of snakes, but characterize diversity patterns of lizards and turtles poorly. Hotspots of total and endemic lizard richness overlap very little with those of other taxa. Moreover, existing protected areas, sites of biodiversity significance and global conservation schemes represent birds and mammals better than reptiles. We show that additional conservation actions are needed to effectively protect reptiles, particularly lizards and turtles. Adding reptile knowledge to a global complementarity conservation priority scheme identifies many locations that consequently become important. Notably, investing resources in some of the world’s arid, grassland and savannah habitats might be necessary to represent all terrestrial vertebrates efficiently.
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We thank T. Burbidge, T. Dowe, S. Huang, S. Khela, H.-Y. Lee, K. Tamar, J. Usherwood, M. Hopkins and S. Halle for help in digitizing reptile ranges. We thank librarians and colleagues for help in obtaining relevant literature, G. Bunting and M. Balman for providing IBA polygons and bird species distribution maps from BirdLife International, as well as S. Butchart for insightful comments. A.B. thanks the Gerald M. Lemole endowed Chair funds. G.R.C. thanks CAPES - Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico – CNPq and Fundação de Apoio à Pesquisa do Distrito Federal – FAPDF for financial support. I.D. was supported by a Niche Research Grant Scheme, NRGS/1087/2–13(01). C.N. and M.M. were supported by São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP no. 2011/50206-9, no. 2012/19858-2 and no. 2015/20215-7 to C.N.). M.M. acknowledges a research fellowship from CNPq. O.T.C. acknowledges support from SENESCYT. R.G. acknowledges the John Fell Fund of the University of Oxford for support. A.A. and S.M. acknowledge support from a BSF grant no. 2012143.