Turtles and crocodiles are two of the world's most endangered groups, and the ones most uniquely evolved are the most threatened. A new research study led by the University of Oxford states that the certain unique reptiles within the species have developed life strategies and defenses, but unfortunately that’s what brings them closer to the end. Habitat loss is categorized as the key downfall and overall threat to both turtles and crocodiles, and with these specific species extinction, many ecosystems will pay the price. Their loss can have widespread disastrous impacts on the environments they inhabit.

The more research and knowledge that rises from these issues, the greater the chance of helping and increasing conservation efforts. Half of the turtle and crocodile species are globally threatened, whether from external factors such as: pollution, habitat loss, urbanization, fracking, and poaching; or internal factors like being overtaken by invasive species or low reproductive rates. Within the new study, researchers in the Department of Biology at Oxford found key threats to these species through a developed simulation model that shows the habitat after the foreseen extinction. This model was able to assess what the human-impacts would have on the unique species and their environment. Over the years, certain groups from both species have developed exclusive life strategies for living in that native environment. A life strategy is how an organism that divides its resources and energy to disperse among its own survival, reproduction, and growth. 

“A key finding is that the threats do not affect all species equally; they tend to impact particular life history strategies. For example, unsustainable consumption of turtles and crocodiles mainly affects the longest-lived species with the largest clutch sizes, such as sea turtles,” wrote Senior Author of research, Professor Rob Salguero-Gómez. 

These crucial species aid the stability of the ecosystem, without them it would leave other various species vulnerable. For instance, many are seed dispensers, some create burrows for other animals, and others are predators that help maintain balance within that ecosystem. The potential loss of these reptiles is highly concerning since many perform important functions for the overall success of that environment. 

The results of this study, highlight and bring forth the need for extensive conservation efforts not only for these specific species, but for habitats overall. These management plans need to cover the uniquely evolved species and their history, allowing for greater growth, evolution, and understanding. Incorporating functional diversity into the conservation plan will give a promising outlook to prioritizing the livelihood of these species against future threats. Functional diversity is the range of functions organisms perform in a community that affect the overall ecosystem,

The recently published study in the Nature Communications publication has the full study breakdown and research details.