It’s hard to imagine a world without turtles but sadly, the day doesn’t seem much far away. The pace at which the world is losing turtle species is not slowing down. A new paper published in the journal BioScience reported the dwindling status of the turtles. 61 percent of the turtle species are threatened or already extinct from the face of the earth.
The report was based on the studies by the researchers from the University of Georgia, The U.S. Geological Survey, the University of California, Davis, and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute on the status of the turtles and the decline in their number around the world.
“Our purpose is to inform the public of the many critical ecological roles turtles perform on a global scale and bring awareness to the plight of these emblematic animals whose ancestors walked with the dinosaurs,” said Whit Gibbons, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and Odum School of Ecology and the study’s senior author.
“These modern descendants of an ancient lineage are touchstones for how human influences are causing the decline of so much of the world’s wildlife. Our hope is that everyone will be encouraged to engage in concerted efforts to conserve their well-earned legacy as part of our natural habitats” she added.
The turtles are one of the oldest species in the world. They have been on earth for more than 200 million years and have outlived the dinosaurs. The fascinating creatures are highly crucial beings in the many ecosystems. The study also provided insights on the factors responsible for the decline like habitat loss, climate change, plastic pollution, poaching among others.
“Our goal is to provide resource managers with a full picture of the state of these iconic animals worldwide, and what long-term impacts our environment might experience if populations continue to decrease and species loss continues,” said USGS scientist and lead author of the study Jeffrey Lovich. “Turtles contribute to the health of many environments, including desert, wetland, freshwater, and marine ecosystems, and their decline may lead to negative effects on other species, including humans, that may not be immediately apparent.”
Turtles are now among the most threatened vertebrate animals on the planet. They can be more important to the ecosystem than observed. They are estimated to be responsible for dispersing seeds of many plants, some species dig deep burrows and therefore creates habitats for many other species of reptiles, insects, foxes, and rabbits. They lay a large number of eggs that provide food for a number of organisms.
“The ecological importance of turtles, especially freshwater turtles, is underappreciated, and they are generally understudied by ecologists,” says Josh Ennen, a research scientist at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. “The alarming rate of turtle disappearance could profoundly affect how ecosystems function as well as the structure of biological communities around the globe.”
“We must take the time to understand turtles, their natural history, and their importance to the environment, or risk losing them to a new reality where they don’t exist,” said Mickey Agha, a UC Davis scientist. “Referred to as a shifting baseline, people born into a world without large numbers of long-lived reptiles, such as turtles, may accept that as the new norm.”