We present a review and analysis of the conservation status and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) threat categories of all 360 currently recognized species of extant and recently extinct turtles and tortoises (Order Testudines). Our analysis is based on the 2018 IUCN Red List status of 251 listed species, augmented by provisional Red List assessments by the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG) of 109 currently unlisted species of tortoises and freshwater turtles, as well as re-assessments of several outdated IUCN Red List assessments. Of all recognized species of turtles and tortoises, this combined analysis indicates that 20.0% are Critically Endangered (CR), 35.3% are Critically Endangered or Endangered (CR+EN), and 51.9% are Threatened (CR+EN+Vulnerable). Adjusting for the potential threat levels of Data Deficient (DD) species indicates that 56.3% of all data-sufficient species are Threatened. We calculated percentages of imperiled species and modified Average Threat Levels (ATL; ranging from Least Concern = 1 to Extinct = 8) for various taxonomic and geographic groupings. Proportionally more species in the subfamily Geoemydinae (Asian members of the family Geoemydidae) are imperiled (74.2% CR+EN, 79.0% Threatened, 3.89 ATL) compared to other taxonomic groupings, but the families Podocnemididae, Testudinidae, and Trionychidae and the superfamily Chelonioidea (marine turtles of the families Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae) also have high percentages of imperiled species and ATLs (42.9–50.0% CR+EN, 73.8–100.0% Threatened, 3.44–4.06 ATL). The subfamily Rhinoclemmydinae (Neotropical turtles of the family Geoemydidae) and the families Kinosternidae and Pelomedusidae have the lowest percentages of imperiled species and ATLs (0%–7.4% CR+EN, 7.4%–13.3% Threatened, 1.65–1.87 ATL). Turtles from Asia have the highest percentages of imperiled species (75.0% CR+EN, 83.0% Threatened, 3.98 ATL), significantly higher than predicted based on the regional species richness, due to much higher levels of exploitation in that geographic region. The family Testudinidae has the highest ATL (4.06) of all Testudines due to the extinction of several species of giant tortoises from Indian and Pacific Ocean islands since 1500 CE. The family Testudinidae also has an ATL higher than all other larger polytypic families (≥ 5 species) of Reptilia or Amphibia. The order Testudines is, on average, more imperiled than all other larger orders (≥ 20 species) of Reptilia, Amphibia, Mammalia, or Aves, but has percentages of CR+EN and Threatened species and an ATL (2.96) similar to those of Primates and Caudata (salamanders).
We analyzed the taxon richness and endemism of tortoises and freshwater turtles in the world’s premier biodiversity conservation priority areas and countries with greatest turtle richness. Turtle hotspots include biodiversity hotspots (BHS), high-biodiversity wilderness areas (HBWA), and additional turtle priority areas (TPA) previously identified. We present taxon richness and endemism values for the 16 turtle hotspots with highest richness and endemicity. These 16 turtle hotspots together contain 262 species (83% of total), of which 149 (47%) are endemic to these areas combined, and 134 species (43%) are endemic to just a single priority area. At the terminal taxon (subspecies) level, these 16 areas harbor 342 taxa (79%), of which 210 (48%) are endemic to these combined areas, and 195 (45%) are endemic to a single priority area. These 16 BHS, HBWA, and TPA account for less than 24 million square kilometers, or 16.0% of planet Earth’s land surface, with an estimated 10.4 million square kilometers of original habitat remaining, or 7.0% of the planet’s land surface. Twenty-one countries are recorded to harbor 15 or more species of non-marine turtles, with the percentage of endemic species ranging from 0% to 88%. Collectively, these 21 countries are inhabited by 275 (87%) species and 352 (81%) taxa, of which 115 (37%) species and 175 (40%) taxa are endemic to just a single country. Identification of these conservation priority areas and countries should assist conservation of turtles worldwide by focusing on areas where the greatest number of species and taxa can be secured and where the authorities and institutions that exist hope to accomplish these goals.
There are currently ca. 317 recognized species of turtles and tortoises in the world. Of those that have been assessed on the IUCN Red List, 63% are considered threatened, and 10% are critically endangered, with ca. 42% of all known turtle species threatened. Without directed strategic conservation planning, a significant portion of turtle diversity could be lost over the next century. Toward that conservation effort, we compiled museum and literature occurrence records for all of the world's tortoises and freshwater turtle species to determine their distributions and identify priority regions for conservation. We constructed projected range maps for each species by selecting geographic information system–defined hydrologic unit compartments (HUCs) with verified locality points, and then added HUCs that connected known point localities in the same watershed or physiographic region and that had similar habitats and elevations as the verified HUCs. We analyzed a total of 305 turtle species and assigned each to 1 of 7 geographic regions of the world. Patterns of global turtle species distributions were determined and regional areas of turtle species richness identified. In only 2 areas of the world did as many as 18 or 19 species occur together in individual HUCs. We then compared species distributions with existing global conservation strategies (GCSs) and established biodiversity priority areas. Presence of a species in a GCS was defined as ≥ 5% its range. Of the 34 biodiversity hotspots, 28 collectively contain the projected ranges of 192 turtle species, with 74 endemic; the 5 high-biodiversity wilderness areas contain 72 species, with 17 endemic; and 16 other wilderness areas contain 52 species, with 1 endemic. However, 116 turtle species have either < 50% of their ranges in existing GCSs (57 species) or do not occur in them at all (59 species, 19.3%), thus potentially leaving many tortoises and freshwater turtles without any regional GCS. For each of these 116 species we identify a priority Ecoregion for further conservation consideration, and we identify 3 new global Turtle Priority Areas for conservation based on aggregated Ecoregions. These are the Southeastern United States, Lower Gangetic Plain, and Coastal Australia Turtle Priority Areas.