Endangered Ecosystem “Red List” to Identify Threats to Environments of Wildlife and Humans

NEW YORK – November 9, 2010

A recent article by a group of 21 scientists led by Jon Paul Rodríguez, a local conservation partner of Ecohealh Alliance, formerly known as Wildlife Trust, sheds light on the urgent need for ecosystem-level threat assessment “red lists” to support environmental protection. “Establishing IUCN Red List Criteria for Threatened Ecosystems,” which was recently published in Conservation Biology, discusses the development of categories and criteria for a red list ranking the threats to ecosystems, based on the experiences of threatened species red lists developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“When used in tandem with red lists for particular species, ecosystem red lists could become the most informative indicator to date of the status of the world’s ecological diversity,” according to Rodriguez and his colleagues. “Ecosystem-level threat assessments may be more efficient and less time consuming than species-by-species assessments, because ecosystems better represent biological diversity as a whole.”

In the past 50 years humans have changed the world’s ecosystems more than during any other time in history; in fact, 20 to 70 percent of the area of 11 of the 13 terrestrial biomes evaluated in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has already been converted to human use. “Although informed and effective policy may slow land conversion, there has been no consistent, widely accepted scientific framework for tracking the status of the world’s ecosystems and identifying those with a high probability of loss or degradation,” Rodríguez and his colleagues stated.

According to the article, ecosystem red lists have the potential to complement the policy successes of species red lists in several ways, including:

  1. Ecosystems more effectively represent biological diversity as a whole than do individual species; plus, they include fundamental non-biological components (e.g., soil fertility and water quality) that are only indirectly included in threatened-species assessments.
  2. Declines in ecosystem status may be more apparent than the losses of individual species; society often perceives loss of biological diversity in terms of loss of benefits such as clean water, food, timber, and fuel.
  3. Ecosystem-level assessments may also be less time consuming than species-by-species assessments; despite concerted efforts, by 2010 the status of only 47,978 of the world’s 1,740,330 known species had been evaluated for potential inclusion on the IUCN Red List.
  4. Because the decline in the extent and status of an ecosystem often precedes the loss of its species, ecosystem red lists may suggest areas in which wildlife species eradications occur in conjunction with the loss and fragmentation of their habitats.

At the World Conservation Congress in 2008, Rodríguez led the process to develop and implement global standards for ecosystems.  The final red-list system will require further definitions of ecosystems; standard measures for ecosystem status; identification of the stages of degradation and loss of ecosystems; proxy measures of risk (criteria); classification thresholds for these criteria; and standardized methods for performing assessments.  These are the first steps in an international consultation process that will lead to a unified proposal to be presented at the next World Conservation Congress in 2012.

To read or download the article, visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01598.x/full.

About Dr. Jon Paul Rodríguez
Jon Paul Rodríguez’s work focuses on understanding patterns in the spatial distribution of threatened species and habitats, as well as the underlying causes of these patterns, and the development of policy guidelines for biodiversity conservation. He is located at the Center for Ecology of the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Investigations (Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas – IVIC), and is a founder and current board member of Provita, a Venezuelan conservation NGO established in 1987. In 2005, he was selected by the Jeune Chambre Internationale, Zulia, as one of Venezuela’s Ten Outstanding Young People for his environmental achievements.

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on 40 years of innovative science, EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust) is a non-profit international conservation organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and safeguarding human health from the emergence of disease. The organization develops ways to combat the effects of damaged ecosystems on human and wildlife health. It specializes in saving biodiversity in human-dominated ecosystems where ecological health is most at risk from habitat loss, species imbalance, pollution and other environmental issues. EcoHealth Alliance scientists also identify and examine the causes affecting the health of global ecosystems in the U.S. and more than 20 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance’s strength is founded on innovations in research, education, training, and support from a global network of EcoHealth Alliance conservation partners. For more information, visit https://www.ecohealthalliance.org.

EcoHealth Alliance is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization.