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Carnivore extinction risk determined more by biology than human population density, says study

Carnivores around the world are more at risk of extinction due to their own intrinsic biological attributes than from an increasing human population with whom they share their space, say scientists in a study published this week.

Researchers looking at all 280 carnivore species around the world estimated the risk of their extinction by 2030 based on a variety of different threats.

They found that while a high human population density is associated with a high extinction risk, its importance fell as biological traits were accounted for.

Four traits in particular were associated with high extinction risk in carnivores: a small geographic distribution, low population density, high trophic level (position on the food chain), and long gestation period

Furthermore, biology is by far more important in determining risk of extinction when combined with high human population density.

"When species face severe external threats, their biology becomes much more crucial," says Dr Marcel Cardillo, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences at Imperial, and first author of the paper.

Writing in the July issue of PLoS Biology, the authors conclude that there is no room for complacency about the security of species simply because they are not currently considered globally threatened.

"There is a strong case to be made for pre-emptive conservation of species that live in regions of rapid human population growth and have a biology predisposing them to decline," they write. They highlight in particular the threat to African viverrids, or civets and genets, even though they are currently considered relatively safe.

The authors, from Imperial College London, University of Virginia, USA, and the Institute of Zoology, suggest action now would offset greater danger later: "Arguably, maintaining the stability of particularly susceptible species before they become threatened could be more cost-effect
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15-Jul-2004


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