Aug 7, 2022
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The extinction of crocodiles could be catastrophic

The extinction of crocodiles could be catastrophic

More than half of the world’s crocodiles – a group that includes crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gharials – are now threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, hunting, by-catch in fishing gear and river damming.

A new study by the University of Oxford in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has shown that the extinction of these endangered species entails the loss of the diverse ecological functions they provide, with unknown – and potentially devastating – ecological consequences. According to experts, about 38 percent of the various ecological functions that crocodiles perform for ecosystems as a whole are currently at risk of loss.

Scientists have explored the diversity of crocodile ecological roles by looking at measurable functions related to how different species function in their environment, including skull shape, body size, or habitat use.

For example, the vigorous roaming activity of the endangered Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) provides vital hiding places and shelters for other species, the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) controls agricultural pests by feeding on invasive apple snails, and the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the largest crocodile in the world – travels hundreds of kilometers across the open ocean, transferring nutrients between terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats.

“If we lose these species, we will forever lose the important roles they play,” said study lead author Phoebe Griffith, a doctoral student in crocodile conservation at Oxford. “We are just beginning to explore these roles, but some species may be lost before we can understand their place in the ecosystems where they live. under immediate threat of extinction

According to Griffith and her colleagues, certain traits may help reduce the risk of the species becoming extinct. For example, species that invest heavily in reproduction, are highly adaptive to different habitats, or can tolerate extreme climatic conditions are more likely to survive. However, because crocodiles often occupy fragile habitats such as fresh waters or coastlines that are under high anthropogenic pressure, they are at increased risk in many regions of the globe, especially in and around Asia.

“Our study highlights that crocodiles are highly endangered and that immediate and strong conservation action is needed to protect the ecological functions of many of these species in the freshwater habitats they inhabit. This is so important because freshwater habitats are one of the most threatened on Earth, but provide many essential services to our planet,” Griffith concluded.

The study was published in the journal Functional Ecology.

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