Islands suffer from reptile loss

When reptiles are lost on islands, so are their ecosystem services

The disappearance of ancient and current species of reptiles has had serious consequences in island ecosystems. Researchers looked at 418 reptile species in the Caribbean and the ecosystem services they offer in the natural environment, also known as their functional diversity. “Functional diversity is a really important measure of the health of an ecosystem,” said Melissa Kemp, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s important to understand the number of species in a given system, but it’s equally, if not more, important to understand the roles those species play. That’s the measure of functional diversity.” For example, when giant tortoises (Chelonoidis niger) were hunted to extinction, their function of spreading plant seeds was lost. Kemp and her colleagues found that larger islands as well as ones without as much human impact maintained functional diversity of reptiles better. 

Read the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Header Image: When green iguanas (Iguana iguana) were introduced to islands that had lost functional diversity of other reptiles, the green iguana filled in the gaps. Credit: Bernard DUPONT