Counting every animal on earth was no an easy task. Counting every animal on earth was no an easy task. Counting every animal on earth was no easy task. (Photo: BoxerX / Shutterstock)

For first time, researchers complete map of every vertebrate on earth

The newly finished 'Atlas of Life' contains some amazing stats and facts.

For more than a decade, a team of scientists from the University of Oxford, Tel Aviv University and 30 other institutions have been cataloging all the animal species on earth.

And this week they just finished the final piece – a comprehensive survey of all the snakes and lizards on the planet. Their work, known as the "Atlas of Life," is now complete. It was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. We flipped through the atlas and broke out some of the highlights below ...

By the numbers

A lion rests on the savannah grass in Africa. A lion rests on the savannah grass in Africa. (Photo: Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock)

The atlas catalogs 31,000 animals – including 10,000 birds; 6,000 frogs and salamanders; 5,000 mammals; and 10,000 species of snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises. That's a boatload of animals. That list is so long, if you were to name a species every day, it would take nearly 85 years to complete.


The reptiles were slowing things down

A giant tortoise was part of the final section of the atlas to be completed. A giant tortoise was part of the final section of the atlas to be completed. (Photo: Andy_coleman83 / Shutterstock)

While the rest of the atlas had been completed back in 2006, it was widely believed that many reptile species were just too obscure to be mapped. The final piece of the puzzle – the 10,000 species of snakes, lizards, tortoises and turtles – was just compiled by a team of 39 scientists at Ben Gurion University in Israel.

"Mapping the distributions of all reptiles was considered too difficult to tackle," said Professor Shai Meiri of Tel Aviv University, who first planned the project more than 10 years ago. "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."


X marks the spot

The top map (a) shows all the animals, while the others show the density of specific groups: all reptiles (b), lizards (c), snakes (d) and turtles (e). The top map (a) shows all the animals, while the others show the density of specific groups: all reptiles (b), lizards (c), snakes (d) and turtles (e). (Photo: Courtesy)

A big part of the atlas are detailed maps highlighting the whereabouts of all known land-living species of vertebrate on earth. The new maps now give conservationists the tools to ask whether environmental efforts to date have been implemented in the best possible manner.


Where the wild things are

An Australian Thorny Devil lizard, covered with spikes, on the red desert sand in outback central Australia. According to the atlas, The area with the highest levels of species richness for snakes lies in the central Australian deserts. An Australian Thorny Devil lizard, covered with spikes, on the red desert sand in outback central Australia. According to the atlas, the central Australian deserts are an area with one of the highest levels of species richness for snakes. (Photo: Chris Watson / Shutterstock)

The map has revealed unexpected trends and regions of biodiversity fragility. They include the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, inland arid southern Africa, the Asian steppes, the central Australian deserts, the Brazilian caatinga scrubland and the high southern Andes.

"Lizards especially 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," explained Dr. Uri Roll, the Israeli professor who led the study. "These don't tend to be priorities for birds or mammals, so we couldn't have guessed them in advance."

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