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29 April 2015
Red List at 50

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. To date more than 76,000 species have been assessed - an incredible achievement. However, our work is nowhere near complete. We need to more than double the number of wild species (plants, animals and fungi) assessed. Our new goal is to assess at least 160,000 species by 2020. Meeting this goal will provide the most up-to-date indication of the health of the world’s biodiversity to guide critical conservation action.

Please help us make the Red List a more complete ‘Barometer of Life’ and an even more powerful conservation tool. Will you help? Sign the Pledge.






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His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge leads wildlife talks at IUCN

22 May 2015
His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge and IUCN Director General Inger Andersen
Photo: IUCN

IUCN was deeply honoured to host His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge as he convened a meeting of United for Wildlife (UfW) at IUCN headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, on Monday 18 May to discuss global cooperation in tackling the illegal wildlife trade. United for Wildlife is a collaboration led by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, in conjunction with seven partner conservation organisations, including IUCN, all joining forces to tackle wildlife crime.

During the meeting, the partner organisations discussed next steps towards achieving the UfW commitments. In particular, they discussed new methods to combat poaching in priority sites in Africa and Asia, engage local communities in overcoming wildlife crime, reduce the demand for ivory in China, strengthen criminal justice responses in key countries, determine new financing mechanisms for conserving rhinos, and engage the next generation in the overall movement to save the world’s most iconic species.

His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge and IUCN staff Photo: IUCNA special UfW Task Force is tackling the trafficking of illegal wildlife products through engagement with the transport industry. Convened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge and chaired by former British Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Task Force, which also met at IUCN headquarters on Monday, brings together leading figures from the private sector, international trade alliances, United Nations agencies and UfW partner organisations. At the meeting, participants discussed possible means of United for Wildlife partners Photo: IUCNtackling the transportation of illegally sourced wildlife products with both the airline and shipping sectors.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which is compiled by IUCN’s Species Survival Commission under the chairmanship of Dr Simon Stuart, is a critical knowledge source for initiating the sustained recovery of threatened species and the starting point for on-the-ground conservation action. The IUCN Red List was discussed during a presentation to His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge delivered by Dr Jane Smart, Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group.“Battling the illegal wildlife trade is an absolute imperative for conservation, for sustainability, and for poverty reduction – it is extremely urgent,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “It was an honour to host His Royal Highness and the United for Wildlife partners to work towards attaining our common goal. The determination in the room was palpable. It was inspiring to witness the determination of His Royal Highness to combat and end illegal wildlife trade.”

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All species great and small must be preserved

20 May 2015
Fiddler crab
Photo: Thai National Parks CC BY-SA 2.0

The paper, “The Importance and Benefits of Species”, released today in the journal Current Biology, advocates a conservation philosophy that all species are important, no matter their direct use by humans, apparent value, intelligence or attractiveness. The default setting for our relationship to all species on Earth should be “Conservation”, not trying to develop arguments for why a species should be saved through its current perceived usefulness to humans.

The paper was authored by affiliates of the Abu Dhabi-based Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, including several IUCN staff and IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) members, and the authors argue in favour of strong conservation efforts for all species great and small.

While in recent years there has been increasing recognition of the value of ecosystem services in achieving long-term sustainable development and human well-being, the value of individual species in maintaining these critical services has often been undervalued or overlooked entirely.

The potential for advances in antifouling and adhesion technology derived from the study of Blue Mussels may result in massive fuel savings to marine vessels and advances in adhesives with medical applications. Fiddler crabs, common in salt marshes and mangrove forests throughout the world, help mangrove trees grow larger, taller and thicker, which in turn helps sequester more carbon. These are only two of the many examples of unexpected and unanticipated benefits obtained from even the most common species, according to the study.

Blue Mussels. Photo: Dara Robinson CC BY-NC-ND 2.0The authors seek to highlight the fact that species are essential in maintaining ecosystem services, and that they need to be conserved even if their immediate values are not yet defined. Value offered by a single species is often unexpected and unanticipated, such as the potential value of a newly described species of catfish in the Amazon basin, whose unique gut bacteria can digest wood and may prove beneficial to manufacturing paper using less energy.

A more balanced approach to conservation is required Indian Vulture. Photo: Madhukar Bangalore CC BY-NC-ND 2.0taking in to account the intrinsic value of wildlife and potential benefits that are currently overlooked by science. It is very difficult to assess the value of wild species because it not only depends on the properties of that species as they are currently understood but on the changes to the environment and society over time. When a species is lost or greatly reduced in an environment, there are consequences. For example, the Indian Vulture was unintentionally poisoned in the 1990s, reducing its numbers by more than 99%. This resulted in an increase in feral dogs which led to greater occurrences of rabies across India and Pakistan.

The authors suggest that the demonstrable links between individual species and ecosystem services that are critical to humanity should, at a minimum, eliminate the burden of proving the relevance of species and give way to an intelligent approach founded on the precautionary principle. Just because we generally don’t know what most species’ roles in nature are, does not mean that they are unimportant.

“There are so many reasons why we should care for the diversity of life and the wonders of our world," says Jean-Christophe Vié, Director of SOS-Save Our Species, Deputy Director IUCN Global Species Programme and member of the advisory board of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. “We can demonstrate the important role some wild species play but we are just scratching the surface: for millions of species we simply do not know. Thus, we should be cautious and not let wildlife vanish just because we are unable to demonstrate what they do for us. It is a huge mistake and many would be gone before we could demonstrate their 'usefulness'."

The paper is available online here.

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New study provides guidance on assessing species’ vulnerability to climate change

30 April 2015
Taxonomic focus of vulnerability assessments in the analysed papers
Photo: Pacifici et al. 2015

A study by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Climate Change Specialist Group in collaboration with other international experts reviews different approaches for assessing the vulnerability of species to climate change and provides valuable guidance for conservation practitioners. The study found an imbalance in the coverage of different species groups and geographic areas, with the majority of studies focusing on birds, mammals, and plants in North America, Europe, and Australia.

“Climate change will be a major driver of biodiversity decline in the coming decades, and accurate predictions of species expected to be affected are essential for gaining time for conservation action -- the sooner we start, the wider the range of options we have,” says lead author Michela Pacifici of the Global Mammal Assessment Program at Sapienza University of Rome.

Corals are being severely affected by climate change Photo: Emre TurakThe authors reviewed a total of 97 studies on the vulnerability of species to climate change published between 1996 and 2014, revealing a bias in taxonomic coverage, scale of application and geographic area.

The majority of studies involved only three continents or subcontinents, with almost 33% of the studies focused on North America, 24% on Europe, and 14% on Australia. There is a severe shortage of studies in the most biodiverse tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Birds have been the most frequently studied taxon, followed by Koala, one of the species most affected by climate change Photo: Guy Dutsonmammals and plants, while non-insect invertebrates such as arthropods, molluscs and sponges, were only seldom assessed. Only 4% of the studies evaluated species’ vulnerability at a global scale, while more than 60% of the assessments were developed at a local scale.

The authors identified areas containing high concentrations of climate change vulnerable species, including the Caribbean, the Amazon basin, Mesoamerica, eastern Europe through central and eastern Asia, the Mediterranean basin, the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, North Leatherback turtle Photo: Brian HutchinsonAfrica, the Congo basin, tropical West Africa and Madagascar.

"Increasing global warming, together with habitat loss, is predicted to severely affect biodiversity in many developing countries," says co-author Carlo Rondinini, coordinator of the Global Mammal Assessment Program at Sapienza University of Rome. "Therefore, it is essential to conduct studies and increase monitoring efforts in these data-deficient areas."

Polar Bear Photo: Andrew E DerocherAn additional shortcoming of previous studies is that they only focused on the direct impacts of climate change. The authors point out that indirect impacts within biological communities, as well as changes in human use of natural resources, will have substantial, complex, and often multiplicative impacts on species. The growing human population will itself be increasingly affected by climate change, with human adaptation responses likely to result in substantial negative impacts on biodiversity.

“The paper is a firm foundation for the development of guidelines for practitioners (currently in preparation), to help them select and use the most appropriate approaches to assess the vulnerability of species to climate change. This provides a vital component for developing strategies to help biodiversity adapt to climate change,” says co-author Wendy Foden, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group.

The paper, Assessing species vulnerability to climate change, is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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Conservation action makes vital difference to world’s biodiversity, study shows

30 April 2015
Arabian Oryx
Photo: Jean Christophe Vié

A new IUCN study evaluating the impact of conservation action on ungulates (hoofed mammals) shows that species have greatly benefited from measures taken to prevent their extinction. If the conservation actions that have already been implemented had not taken place, at least 148 ungulate species would have deteriorated by one IUCN Red List category, including six species that would now be listed as Extinct or Extinct in the Wild.

“We found that the overall decline in the conservation status of ungulates would have been nearly eight times worse than observed, were it not for conservation efforts,” says lead author Michael Hoffmann, Senior Scientist to the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). “The decline would have been even greater if the contribution of private lands, which may be managed for purposes ranging from hunting to game viewing, are also factored in.”

The authors used a scenario-based analysis to quantify the difference conservation actions have made to the extinction risk of the world’s 235 recognized ungulate species. The study compares species’ observed conservation status (their IUCN Red List category) in 2008 with their estimated status under a hypothetical scenario in which all conservation efforts – everything from protected areas to conservation breeding programmes – ceased in 1996.

Przewalski's Horse Photo: Yvan CC BY-NC-SA 2.0Several species, such as the Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx) and Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus), would likely not exist in the wild today were it not for highly targeted conservation interventions. The last wild Arabian Oryx were killed by hunters in the 1970s but the species recovered thanks to extensive captive breeding and reintroduction efforts since the early 1980s and is now classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Similarly, Przewalski’s Horse would not have improved from its Extinct in the Wild Greater One-horned Rhinoceros Photo: Sugoto Roystatus in 1996 to its current Endangered status if reintroductions and management had ceased.

Two iconic species, the Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros (R. unicornis) would likely be extinct today were it not for strict protection measures. The Javan Rhino was in fact extirpated from Viet Nam during the timeframe considered in this study due to the cessation of local efforts to save the species in the mid to late 2000s, but still survives in Wildebeest Photo: Brent Huffman / UltimateUngulatewestern Java, Indonesia.

However, the majority of species considered in this study benefited collaterally from broad conservation measures such as habitat protection. For example, establishment and successful management of protected areas have likely prevented a dramatic deterioration in the Red List status of the iconic Common Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) from Least Concern to Critically Endangered. As the population of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem accounts for the majority of the total population, the authors estimated that disruption of migration (e.g. through possible road construction) and increased hunting pressures would have led to steep population declines.

“Our results provide further evidence that conservation action is making a vital difference to trends in biodiversity,” says co-author Simon Stuart, IUCN SSC Chair. “Now we urgently need to increase and sustain investment in such efforts to achieve further improvements and to reach global biodiversity targets.”

The study, The difference conservation makes to extinction risk of the world’s ungulates, was published in the journal Conservation Biology and is available here.

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