Washington - A scientific study out on Thursday identifies 78 sites worldwide in dire need of environmental protection because they harbor species that could go extinct.Many of the locations are already in protected areas of 34 countries. Together they contain populations of birds, amphibians, and mammals that are globally threatened.Some are already designated for protection under the Unesco World Heritage Convention, including Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, Peru's Manu National Park and India's Western Ghats.Other areas do not have the same level of recognition, including Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains National Park and Cuba's Cienaga de Zapata Wetland of International Importance.The most "irreplaceable" spot in the world for threatened species among 173 000 conservation areas studied went to Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Natural National Park."These exceptional places would all be strong candidates for World Heritage status," said Soizic Le Saout, lead author of the study which appears in the journal Science."Such recognition would ensure effective protection of the unique biodiversity in these areas, given the rigorous standards required for World Heritage sites."The study was based on an international collaboration between the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in France, International Union for Nature Conservation, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and BirdLife International.