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Threatened amphibians are ‘invisible’ under climate change models

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Modern methods used to predict the affect of climate change on the worlds' species of life aren't doing well, leaving some threatened species "invisible," researchers say.

Something like 90 percent of the species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened species are missing in the most commonly used species distribution modeling tools, they say.

That's the finding of a case study focusing on amphibians in Africa, are large number of which are on the brink of extinction.

Researchers from Britain's University of York and the University of Copenhagen worked with United Nations Environment Program scientists to carry out the study.

"Modern methods to predict species distributions under climate change typically leave out rare and threatened species -- the ones that currently underpin global spending on conservation," says York scientist Philip Platts.

Data on such species, because their numbers are so scarce and in decline, is too sparse for modeling their distribution using standard modeling tools, he says.

"We looked at whether missing them out makes a difference for conservation priority setting, either now or under future climates," he says.

The major problem with current predictions that "miss out" on endangered species is that significant sites for threatened and isolated species are ignored or downplayed, the researchers say.

"Effective biodiversity conservation, both now and in the future, relies on our ability to assess patterns of threat across all species, but particularly those close to extinction," says study leader Raquel Garcia of the University of Copenhagen.

Many species groups are affected by this issue, and modeling at finder spatial scales can only partially mitigate that, the researchers say.

For their study, they analyzed the amount of data available on 733 sub-Saharan African amphibians.

Of those, 400 had too few existing records to allow modeling their distribution on continental scales.

That included 92 percent the IUCN Red List carries as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered, the researchers say.

Amphibians were selected for the case study because they are likely to face high and ongoing threats as a result of climate change, disease and loss of habitat, the researchers explained.

"These results show that unless we use appropriate analysis for the impacts of climate change on species such as amphibians, we risk leaving many rare species under-represented in conservation plans, with the potential to misguide conservation efforts on the ground," says study principle investigator Neil Burgess of the United Nations Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center.

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