The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals areas with the potential to lose species that are not presently in danger. Species in these 'hotspots' have a latent risk of extinction; that is, they are currently less threatened than their biology would suggest, usually because they inhabit regions or habitats still comparatively unmodified by human activity.
The new research shows that over the next few decades, many species currently deemed safe could leapfrog those deemed high risk to become highly threatened. The comprehensive Red List, prepared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural resources, classifies species according to categories of threat running from 'extinct' to 'least concern'.
Among the species with the highest latent extinction risk according to the new study are the North American reindeer, the musk ox, the Seychelles flying fox, and the brown lemur.
Dr Marcel Cardillo, from the Division of Biology at Imperial College London and lead author of the research, said: "We can see this leapfrogging happening now, for example with the Guatemalan howler monkey, which was classified as being on the 'least concern' list in 2000 but which moved to the 'endangered' list in 2004 as it lost much of its forest habitat. We hope conservationists will use our findings to pre-empt future species losses rather than concentrating solely on those species already under threat."
The researchers identified species with the highest latent risks by comparing their current extinction risk and the risk predicted from their biological traits. Particular biological indicators of elevated risk in a species were large body mass, a low rate of reproduction and geographical restric
Contact: Laura Gallagher
Imperial College London