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A Papua Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus papuensis). Photo by Alex Slavenko

A Papua Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus papuensis). Photo by Alex Slavenko

The most comprehensive atlas of reptilian species has been created by an international research team led by an Israeli scientist.

By ISRAEL21c Staff

An international project initiated by an Israeli professor has resulted in the most comprehensive catalog and atlas of every reptile on Earth, including 10,000 species of snakes, lizards, and tortoises and nearly 32,000 land vertebrate species altogether.

An international team of 39 researchers worked on the new “Atlas of Life,” as described in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The atlas links the new reptile information with existing maps for birds, mammals and amphibians. The resulting information provides a missing piece to the puzzle of global conservation planning and prioritization.

A gecko (Cyrtodactylus bintangtinggi) from Malaysia. Photo courtesy of BGU

A gecko (Cyrtodactylus bintangtinggi) from Malaysia. Photo courtesy of BGU

“Mapping the distributions of all reptiles was considered too difficult to tackle. But thanks to a team of experts on the lizards and snakes of some of the most poorly known regions of the world, we managed to achieve this, and hopefully contribute to the conservation of these often elusive vertebrates that suffer from persecution and prejudice,” said Prof. Shai Meiri, the Tel Aviv University zoologist who first planned and has been leading the project for the past 10 years.

This snake is a Vipera ammodytes. Photo by Alex Slavenko

This snake is a Vipera ammodytes. Photo by Alex Slavenko

Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology all had representatives on the research project.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature is currently classifying the species featured in a free online map, rating them from “critically endangered” to “least concern.”

According to lead author Uri Roll, a fellow in desert ecology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, “Lizards typically tend to have weird distributions and often like hot and dry places, so many of the newly identified conservation priority areas are in drylands and deserts. This isn’t as much of a characteristic for birds or mammals, so we couldn’t have guessed that in advance.”

Atlas of all Land Vertebrates. Graph courtesy of BGU

Atlas of all Land Vertebrates. Graph courtesy of BGU

Roll also analyzed the overlap of different land-vertebrate groups with current conservation priorities and protected areas to explore the outcome of these initiatives. “It turns out that reptiles fare worse than mammals and birds, and within that lizards and turtles fare the worst.”

To address these deficiencies, the researchers constructed a new prioritization plan. “We discovered that arid and semi-arid regions in various parts of the world have been under-prioritized for conservation and we will need to reevaluate our broadest conservation initiatives,” said Roll.

Cataloging Every Snake, Lizard and Tortoise on Earth

Scientist Ellen Graber of the Volcani Center with biochar agriculturist Nadav Ziv. From the film  Solutions from the Land

Scientist Ellen Graber of the Volcani Center with biochar agriculturist Nadav Ziv. From the film Solutions from the Land

Ellen Graber is a founder of the Israel Biochar Research Network (iBRN). She is a highly charged, dynamic, and thoughtful woman—a prudent scientist who understands that we don’t yet know all there is to know about putting biochar into our soil. She cautions that it is not a “magic bullet” that will solve all our agronomic and climatic problems. But she also recognizes that the potentials of biochar are enormous. In 2013 Ellen was named Scientist of the Year by the Academic Committee of the Volcani Center for her work with what she calls the “biochar vision.” Volcani scientists and the iBRN are looking into biochar’s long-term effects in the earth, its impact on soil-borne and foliar diseases, how it acts in compost, and much more. They are also considering the major economic impact that biochar might have in the long run.         

Ellen Graber and the Volcani Center are at work on a number of critical challenges facing our planet, from water shortage to the energy crisis to climate change to feeding the planet.

Ellen and the Volcani Center are at work on a number of critical challenges facing our planet, from water shortage to the energy crisis to climate change to feeding the planet. As at so many other Israeli science centers, it is understood that whatever answers are uncovered here will have an effect not only in Israel, but around the world. In its best form, scientific research—unlike politics—is not bound by frontiers. Borders, after all, are not eternal, but knowledge is. Good researchers understand how vital it is to share what they learn: to give and receive. Luckily, Ellen Graber is there, looking out for us. 

Israel Biochar Research Network > 

Volcani Center >

Stills from the film Solutions from the Land, available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel

Scientist Ellen Graber and the Potentials of Biochar