A global ecological signal of extinction risk in terrestrial vertebrates

Maya J. Munstermann, Noel A. Heim, Douglas J. McCauley, Jonathan L. Payne, Nathan S. Upham, Steve C. Wang, Matthew L. Knope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


To determine the distribution and causes of extinction threat across functional groups of terrestrial vertebrates, we assembled an ecological trait data set for 18,016 species of terrestrial vertebrates and utilized phylogenetic comparative methods to test which categories of habitat association, mode of locomotion, and feeding mode best predicted extinction risk. We also examined the individual categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List extinction drivers (e.g., agriculture and logging) threatening each species and determined the greatest threats for each of the four terrestrial vertebrate groups. We then quantified the sum of extinction drivers threatening each species to provide a multistressor perspective on threat. Cave dwelling amphibians (p < 0.01), arboreal quadrupedal mammals (all of which are primates) (p < 0.01), aerial and scavenging birds (p < 0.01), and pedal (i.e., walking) squamates (p < 0.01) were all disproportionately threatened with extinction in comparison with the other assessed ecological traits. Across all threatened vertebrate species in the study, the most common risk factors were agriculture, threatening 4491 species, followed by logging, threatening 3187 species, and then invasive species and disease, threatening 2053 species. Species at higher risk of extinction were simultaneously at risk from a greater number of threat types. If left unabated, the disproportionate loss of species with certain functional traits and increasing anthropogenic pressures are likely to disrupt ecosystem functions globally. A shift in focus from species- to trait-centric conservation practices will allow for protection of at-risk functional diversity from regional to global scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13852
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • extinction drivers
  • factores de extinción
  • feeding mode
  • habitat
  • hábitat
  • locomoción
  • locomotion
  • modo de alimentación
  • nivel de riesgo
  • risk level

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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