Ian Sample

Where humans are set to trigger dramatic declines in animal populations Where humans are set to trigger dramatic declines in animal populations over the coming decades

London: Conservationists have created a map of potential extinction hotspots, highlighting where humans are set to trigger dramatic declines in animal populations.

The map pinpoints 20 areas, ranging from the Siberian tundra to the Patagonian coast, where mammals are particularly at risk from human activity, such as deforestation and hunting. The survey was designed to reveal areas where land mammals are thriving but are expected to suffer disproportionately from increases in the local human population and changes in habitat. The arc of fertile islands that runs from Indonesia to the South Pacific, the Bahamas, and the vast expanses of Greenland were among the most fragile regions marked, with the musk ox, Seychelles flying fox, brown lemur and North American reindeer topping the list of species.

By constructing the map, the scientists hope to help conservation organisations identify regions where they can prevent declines before it is too late. "There are still large areas of the world that are reasonably intact, where species are doing well, but where human impact is increasing," said Marcell Cardillo, a biologist at Imperial College London. "We wanted to determine which areas are going to be the most sensitive to human impact so we can prioritise conservation projects. Conservation is a crisis discipline. Because there are so many species on the verge of extinction, that's where the effort goes."

The map, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was created by assessing the risk of species and how resilient they are to human activity. Researchers studied 4,000 mammals and compared the list with data on human activity in regions where they are found. They identified regions that may become conservation battlegrounds.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004