Established in 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species.
The IUCN Red List is a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity. Far more than a list of species and their status, it is a powerful tool to inform and catalyze action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. It provides information about range, population size, habitat and ecology, use and/or trade, threats, and conservation actions that will help inform necessary conservation decisions.
The IUCN Red List is used by government agencies, wildlife departments, conservation-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs), natural resource planners, educational organizations, students, and the business community. The Red List process has become a massive enterprise involving the IUCN Global Species Program staff, partner organizations and experts in the IUCN Species Survival Commission and partner networks who compile the species information to make The IUCN Red List the indispensable product it is today.
To date, many species groups including mammals, amphibians, birds, reef building corals and conifers have been comprehensively assessed. As well as assessing newly recognized species, the IUCN Red List also re-assesses the status of some existing species, sometimes with positive stories to tell. For example, good news such as the downlisting (i.e. improvement) of a number of species on the IUCN Red List categories scale, due to conservation efforts. The bad news, however, is that biodiversity is declining. Currently there are more than 96,500 species on The IUCN Red List, and more than 26,500 are threatened with extinction, including 40% of amphibians, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef building corals, 25% of mammals and 14% of birds.
Despite the high proportions of threatened species, we are working to reverse, or at least halt, the decline in biodiversity. Increased assessments will help to build The IUCN Red List into a more complete ‘Barometer of Life’. To do this we need to increase the number of species assessed to at least 160,000 by 2020. This will improve the global taxonomic coverage and thus provide a stronger base to enable better conservation and policy decisions. The IUCN Red List is crucial not only for helping to identify those species needing targeted recovery efforts, but also for focusing the conservation agenda by identifying the key sites and habitats that need to be protected. Ultimately, The IUCN Red List helps to guide and inform future conservation and funding priorities.