The global distribution of tetrapods reveals a need for targeted reptile conservation


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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Fig. 1: Species richness maps of terrestrial tetrapods.
Fig. 2: Comparing reptile richness to other tetrapods.
Fig. 3: Species richness hotspots of reptiles and reptile groups.
Fig. 4: Key areas for tetrapod conservation, highlighting regions that rise in importance for conservation due to inclusion of reptiles.

Change history

  • 05 December 2017

    In the version of this Article originally published, grant no. 2015/20215-7 for C.N. was omitted from the Acknowledgements section. This has now been corrected in all versions of the Article.

  • 18 October 2017

    In this Article originally published, owing to a technical error, the author ‘Laurent Chirio’ was mistakenly designated as a corresponding author in the HTML version, the PDF was correct. This error has now been corrected in the HTML version. Further, in Supplementary Table 3, the authors misspelt the surname of ‘Danny Meirte’; this file has now been replaced.


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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.

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A.M.B., R.G., S.M., U.R. conceived the study. R.G., C.D.L.O., U.R. designed the analyses. U.R. conducted the analyses. A.F., S.M., M.N., U.R. complied, designed and curated the dataset. R.G., S.M., U.R. wrote the paper. A.A., A.M.B., M.B., R.B., B.C., F.C.H., L.C., G.R.C., L.D., I.D., T.M.D., A.F., L.L.G., M.H., Y.I., F.K., A.L., M.L., E.M., D.M., M.M., S.M., C.C.N., M.N., Z.T.N., G.P., O.S.G.P., D.P.D., U.R., R.S., O.J.S.T., O.T.C., J.F.T., E.V., P.U., P.W., Y.W. provided, collated and verified underlying data. All authors read and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shai Meiri.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary Figures 1–8, Supplementary References and descriptions of Supplementary Tables 3–4

Supplementary Table 3

Full list of sources per species and details for each source.

Supplementary Table 4

List of species found in the March 2015 version of the Reptile Database ( for which we did not present or analyse distributions.

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Roll, U., Feldman, A., Novosolov, M. et al. The global distribution of tetrapods reveals a need for targeted reptile conservation. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1677–1682 (2017).

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