The fanged Aussie species facing dire threat of extinction

The number of reptile species at risk of extinction around the world are higher than previously thought with Australian animals among the most at risk, according to a new machine-based learning tool.

The findings, published in PLOS Biology yesterday, come less than a month after it was found one in five reptile species are at risk of extinction.

Currently there are 157 Australian species listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. However the new research found this number almost doubles to 283 when unassessed species are taken into account.

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Global spatial changes in the percentage of threatened reptile species resulting from machine-learning assessments.

The study authors explained many animal species were not evaluated as "the process for categorising species is laborious and subject to bias (and depends) heavily on manual curation by human experts".

SO, the machine learning tool assessed 4,369 reptile species that were previously unable to be prioritised for conservation, and assigned IUCN extinction risk categories to the 40 per cent of the world's reptiles that lacked published assessments or are classified as "DD" ("Data Deficient") at the time of the study.

The researchers then validated the model's accuracy by comparing it to the Red List risk categorisations.

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Brown snake April 20

They found reptile-rich regions like Australia, Madagascar and the Amazon basin had the highest proportion of at-risk animals.

"The additional reptile species identified as threatened by our models are not distributed randomly across the globe or the reptilian evolutionary tree," study co-author Shai Meiri said.

"Our added information highlights that there are more reptile species in peril – especially in Australia, Madagascar, and the Amazon basin – all of which have a high diversity of reptiles and should be targeted for extra conservation effort."

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She added rich species groups like geckos and elapid snakes – which includes brown snakes, cobras and mambas – are probably more threatened than the Global Reptile Assessment currently highlights.

The tool also found an increase in the proportion of threatened Crocodylia, the order that comprises crocodiles.

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