Some scientists will be able to save endangered species in 2016 by their choices of what and how they publish. That’s the gist of a New Year’s Day article in The Guardian warning of the threats posed to rare reptiles and other species by poachers and collectors, who can take advantage of hasty and careless release of precise information on those species’ whereabouts.
The report quotes an article from Zootaxa, “A mega-journal for zoological taxonomists in the world,” also cited at the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health PubMed website, announcing the discovery of “two new species of large geckos in the genus Goniurosaurus … based on specimens collected from karst areas of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, southern China.” The same abstract also states that “due to the popularity of this genus as novelty pets, and recurring cases of scientific descriptions driving herpetofauna to near-extinction by commercial collectors, we do not disclose the collecting localities of these restricted-range species in this publication. However, such information has been presented to relevant government agencies, and is available upon request by fellow scientists.” According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species cited by Endangered Species International, ” 35% of reptile species worldwide that have been evaluated by the IUCN are threatened.”
Zootaxa right now contains other examples of the kind of story that might put rare species at risk if not carefully managed. It links to a report in Science Daily from December 2015 headlined: “Scientists discover rare sea snakes, previously thought extinct, off Western Australia.” The report notes that both species “are listed as Critically Endangered under Australia’s threatened species legislation,” and contains no precise map reference or coordinates.
Pressure to publish and court publicity is a bane of academic life, and it’s no surprise if some scientists choose the splashiest headlines possible for their announcements. But the choice of what to say and how much could mean the difference for some species between survival and extinction.