Automated assessment reveals that the extinction risk of reptiles is widely underestimated across space and phylogeny

Gabriel Henrique de Oliveira Caetano, David G. Chapple, Richard Grenyer, Tal Raz, Jonathan Rosenblatt, Reid Tingley, Monika Böhm, Shai Meiri, Uri Roll*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The Red List of Threatened Species, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is a crucial tool for conservation decision-making. However, despite substantial effort, numerous species remain unassessed or have insufficient data available to be assigned a Red List extinction risk category. Moreover, the Red Listing process is subject to various sources of uncertainty and bias. The development of robust automated assessment methods could serve as an efficient and highly useful tool to accelerate the assessment process and offer provisional assessments. Here, we aimed to (1) present a machine learning–based automated extinction risk assessment method that can be used on less known species; (2) offer provisional assessments for all reptiles—the only major tetrapod group without a comprehensive Red List assessment; and (3) evaluate potential effects of human decision biases on the outcome of assessments. We use the method presented here to assess 4,369 reptile species that are currently unassessed or classified as Data Deficient by the IUCN. The models used in our predictions were 90% accurate in classifying species as threatened/nonthreatened, and 84% accurate in predicting specific extinction risk categories. Unassessed and Data Deficient reptiles were considerably more likely to be threatened than assessed species, adding to mounting evidence that these species warrant more conservation attention. The overall proportion of threatened species greatly increased when we included our provisional assessments. Assessor identities strongly affected prediction outcomes, suggesting that assessor effects need to be carefully considered in extinction risk assessments. Regions and taxa we identified as likely to be more threatened should be given increased attention in new assessments and conservation planning. Lastly, the method we present here can be easily implemented to help bridge the assessment gap for other less known taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3001544
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


FundersFunder number
Australian Friends of Tel Aviv University–Monash University
Australian Research CouncilFT200100108
German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and DevelopmentI-2519-119.4/2019
Israel Science Foundation406/19


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