From the Pagham Mountain home of the Afghani brook salamander to the Nyanga Mountain lair of the Inyanga toad in Zimbabwe, 595 sites around the world have been identified as the sole home of at least one endangered species.
Identifying these locations provides a front line list of places that need to be protected because, if the site is lost, it will spell the doom of the plants or animals that make their home only there, said Mike Parr of the American Bird Conservancy.
Parr is co-author of a paper discussing these locations and the need to protect them. It’s being published Monday in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Many endangered species make their homes on isolated islands, where they have evolved to differ from the mainland ancestors, Parr said, and many other sites are “mountain islands,” isolated pockets of forest on mountain areas that have not been logged.
“We felt it was important that the human race have a global map of where single-species sites are,” he said in a telephone interview. “It is a list of irreplaceable species.
“At least this puts up a marker for sites that, if we lose them, we absolutely are going to lose the species,” he said.
Several of the 595 sites in the database are home to more than one endangered species, the authors noted, with a total of 794 endangered species living at these locations.
The researchers estimated that among the five major groups they studied, 245 extinctions have occurred since the year 1500.
“We therefore risk losing three times as many species as are known to have been lost in these same (animal and plant groups) ... over the last 500 years,” they reported.
Their study focused on five groups — mammals, birds, amphibians, conifers and certain reptiles.
Mexico leads the list
With 63 locations, Mexico has more sites where endangered species are concentrated than any other country.
Many are isolated islands along the coast of Baja California, Parr said. A good example is Socorro Island, part of a small group of volcanic islands south of Baja. It’s protected by Mexico, and contains the only populations of unusual types of parakeet and mockingbird. A native dove is to be reintroduced to the area, he added.
While that site, managed by the Mexican navy, is protected, that’s not the case for all the homes of endangered species.
Indeed, the paper notes that of the 595 sites, 257 are completely unprotected, and the status of another 48 could not be determined. The researchers said 204 sites are under protection, and for 86 at least part of the site is protected.
But with 508 of the sites in developing countries, degrees of protection vary, and money is not always available to monitor the areas.
Sites in the United States
The United States is represented with 18 sites on the list, including the Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, the only wintering site for the whooping crane, and the Torrey Pines State Reserve in California, home of the torrey pine.
The list does not include Arkansas’s Big Woods area, where the ivory-billed woodpecker was recently discovered after having been thought extinct.
“Thank goodness we got the ivory-billed woodpecker back,” said Parr, promising that the region will be added to the endangered list when it is next updated.
Among the many sites around the world with several endangered species, none has more than Haiti’s Massif de la Hotte, the only location where one can find some 13 unusual species of amphibians.
The region is also the source of several of Haiti’s major rivers, a source of drinking water vital both to humans and amphibians, Parr said.