8th December 2016
The Importance of Being Assessed - #RedList2016
There are over 1.7 million described species on Earth. Of those, over 85,000 have had their extinction risk assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in its latest update, just published this week!
When it comes to charismatic species, such as mammals and birds, there are many sources of information available, and often conservation efforts are underway to protect those. However, if you consider species like the Macedonian Mountain Grasshopper (Oropodisma macedonica), the situation is radically different. There are only a handful of people in the world who have researched this species and published some information on it. This information is found in scientific journals which a lot of people have never even heard of, and if this species were to go extinct tomorrow, most of us would be none the wiser.
It is challenging to worry about something if you don’t know anything about it, and this is where the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species makes its entrance. This huge online repository of data from all over the world contains huge amounts of information about tens of thousands of species. Information that was once only found in obscure journals, the minds of experts, and in dusty old reference books, has been combed through by thousands of assessors and the most relevant parts extracted and published in online factsheets.
This is already an achievement in and of itself, but the IUCN Red List goes much beyond the simple gathering of information. The experts also delve into the existing and potential threats that might compromise the continued survival of these species, and suggest conservation measures that are needed to ensure they are protected, and will not decline beyond the point of recovery.
To determine how likely a species is to go extinct, a set of criteria are used, which take into consideration population declines, geographic range, the estimated number of mature individuals, and threats (among other factors), to determine how well - or poorly - each species is doing. Once these criteria have been considered, a final category is chosen – for example, if the species is widespread and the population is stable, it might be assessed as Least Concern.
On the other hand, if it has a restricted geographic range (like the Macedonian Mountain Bush-cricket), and there are threats that could lead to rapid population declines in the near future, then the species might be assessed as Vulnerable. For some species, so little is known about them, that even the experts are unable to assess their extinction risk, and these species are listed as Data Deficient. To accompany each assessment, a map is created to illustrate the range of the species. Once everything is in place and has been reviewed extensively to ensure scientific accuracy and consistency, the factsheets are published.
Each species has its own online factsheet, whether it is the Giant Panda or a small bush-cricket. From that point on, stakeholders such as NGO’s and governments can make informed decisions about how to best handle the protection of the threatened species on the Red List. A threatened status is a warning, an acknowledgement that a species is in peril and something should be done about it. Without it, protection for species on the very brink of extinction may never even be considered, because the information that would have brought the subject to the necessary agendas was not readily available. In order to avoid that, species must be talked about - and for that, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is a damn good starting point.
This list has just been updated, and now includes 85,604 species of which 24,307 are threatened with extinction. You can read all about which species are doing better and which ones are doing worse here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/news/new-bird-species-and-giraffe-under-threat-iucn-red-list