Another leap towards the Barometer of Life

11/10/2011

 

Gland, Switzerland – The latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ illustrates the efforts undertaken by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and its partners to expand the number and diversity of species assessed, improving the quality of information in order to obtain a better picture of the state of biodiversity. With now more than 61,900 species reviewed, another big step forward has been made toward developing the IUCN Red List into a true ‘Barometer of Life,’ as called for by leading experts in the magazine Science in 2010.

“This update offers both good and bad news on the status of many species around the world,” says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “We have the knowledge that conservation works if executed in a timely manner, yet, without strong political will in combination with targeted efforts and resources, the wonders of nature and the services it provides can be lost forever.”

Despite the action of conservation programmes, 25% of mammals are at risk of extinction. For example, the reassessments of several Rhinoceros species show that the subspecies of the Black Rhino in western Africa, the Western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) has officially been declared Extinct. The subspecies of the White Rhino in central Africa, the Northern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is currently teetering on the brink of extinction and has been listed as Possibly Extinct in the Wild. The Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is also making its last stand, as the subspecies Rhinoceros sondaicus annasmiticus is probably Extinct, following the poaching of what is thought to be the last animal in Viet Nam in 2010. Although this is not the end of the Javan Rhino, it does reduce the species to a single, tiny, declining population on Java. A lack of political support and will power for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats, international organized crime groups targeting rhinos and increasing illegal demand for rhino horns and commercial poaching are the main threats faced by rhinos.

“Human beings are stewards of the earth and we are responsible for protecting the species that share our environment,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “In the case of both the Western Black Rhino and the Northern White Rhino the situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implemented. These measures must be strengthened now, specifically managing habitats in order to improve breeding performance, preventing other rhinos from fading into extinction.”

Several conservation successes have already been achieved including the Southern White Rhino subspecies (Ceratotherium simum simum), which has increased from a population of less than 100 at the end of the 19th century, to an estimated wild population of over 20,000. The Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus) is another success story, improving its status from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Originally, it was listed as Extinct in the Wild in 1996, but thanks to a captive breeding programme and a successful reintroduction programme, the population is now estimated at more than 300.

Reptiles make up a significant component of biodiversity, particularly in dryland habitats and on islands around the world. In recent years, many more reptile species have been assessed including most of those found in Madagascar. The current Red List reveals that an alarming 40% of Madagascar’s terrestrial reptiles are threatened. The 22 Madagascan species currently identified as Critically Endangered, which include chameleons, geckoes, skinks and snakes, are now a conservation challenge. This new information helps inform conservation planning and allows for an evaluation of the protection that protected areas in Madagascar offer reptiles. Encouragingly, there are new conservation areas being designated in Madagascar that will help conserve a significant proportion of Critically Endangered species, such as Tarzan’s Chameleon (Calumma tarzan), the Bizarre-nosed Chameleon (Calumma hafahafa) and the Limbless Skink (Paracontias fasika). Because of their IUCN Red List status, species which have traditionally been overlooked in conservation efforts, such as the Endangered geckos Paroedura masobe and Uroplatus pietschmanni will now be featured more prominently in future plans.

Russell Mittermeier, Conservation International President and Vice President of IUCN, said: “Protected areas are essential for conservation of Madagascar’s many reptiles and other threatened endemic species. Indeed without them, few of these unique creatures would survive. We are still far from understanding the full diversity of Madagascar’s fauna and flora since species new to science are being discovered every year.”

Plants are an essential resource for human well-being and are a critical component for wildlife habitats, yet they are still underrepresented on the IUCN Red List.  Current work underway to increase knowledge includes a review of all Conifers.  The results so far uncover some disturbing trends.  The Chinese Water Fir (Glyptostrobus pensilis), for example, which was formerly widespread throughout China and Viet Nam has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered. The main cause of decline is the loss of habitat to expanding intensive agriculture and in China there appear to be no wild plants remaining. The largest of the recently discovered stands in LAO PDR was killed through flooding for a newly constructed hydro scheme and very few, if any, of the trees in Viet Nam produce viable seeds, meaning that this species is rapidly moving towards becoming Extinct in the Wild. Another example, Taxus contorta, which is used to produce Taxol, a chemotherapy drug, has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered due to over-exploitation for medicinal use and over-collection for fuel wood and fodder.  Many other tropical plant species are also at risk. The majority of endemic flowering plants in the granitic Seychelles islands have been assessed and current studies show that of the 79 endemic species, 77% are at risk of extinction. Most of these are new assessments but one species, the infamous Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica) has been uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered. Known for its supposed aphrodisiac properties, the Coco de Mer faces threats from fires and illegal harvesting of its kernels. Presently, all collection and sale of its seed is highly regulated, but there is thought to be a significant black market trade in the kernels.

The IUCN Red List keeps apace with scientific discoveries—for example, until recently only one species of Manta Ray was known, but new comparisons of field observations now reveal that there are actually two species of ‘manta’: the Reef Manta Ray (Manta alfredi) and the Giant Manta Ray (Manta birostris), both of which are now classified as Vulnerable. The Giant Manta Ray is the largest living ray, which can grow to more than seven meters across. Manta Ray products have a high value in international trade markets and targeted fisheries hunt them for their valuable gill rakers used in traditional Chinese medicine. Monitoring and regulation of the exploitation and trade of both manta ray species is urgently needed, as well as protection of key habitats.

The results of the assessments of all species of scombrids (tunas, bonitos, mackerels and Spanish mackerels) and billfishes (swordfish and marlins) were published recently in the magazine Science.  The detailed results now on the IUCN Red List show that the situation is particularly serious for tunas. Five of the eight species of tuna are in the threatened or Near Threatened categories. These include: Southern Bluefin (Thunnus maccoyii), Critically Endangered; Atlantic Bluefin (T. thynnus), Endangered; Bigeye (T. obesus), Vulnerable; Yellowfin (T. albacares), Near Threatened; and Albacore (T. alalunga), Near Threatened.  This information will be invaluable in helping governments make decisions which will safeguard the future of these species, many of which are of extremely high economic value.

The assessment for the Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), an iconic salmon species found in the North Pacific, was recently reviewed. Whilst the species’ global status remains the same, Least Concern, the assessment at the subpopulation scale shows elevated threats to the species in its North America habitats, with 31% of the assessed subpopulations threatened, underscoring the need for continued conservation action.

Amphibians form a vital role in ecosystems, are indicators of environmental health, and are literally ‘hopping pharmacies’ being used in the search for new medicines. As one of the most threatened groups, amphibians are closely monitored by IUCN and 26 recently discovered Amphibians have been added to the IUCN Red List.  The Blessed Poison Frog (Ranitomeya benedicta) is currently listed as Vulnerable and the Summers’ Poison Frog (Ranitomeya summersi) is Endangered.  Both are threatened by habitat loss and harvesting for the international pet trade.

“The IUCN Red List is critical as an indicator of the health of biodiversity, in identifying conservation needs and informing necessary changes in policy and legislation to drive conservation forward,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Global Species Programme. “The world is full of marvelous species that are rapidly moving towards becoming things of myth and legend if conservation efforts are not more successfully implemented—if  we do not act now, future generations may not know what a Chinese Water Fir or a Bizarre-nosed Chameleon look like.”

Quotes from IUCN Red List partner organizations

“Red list assessments are essential for guiding conservation action. Botanic gardens around the world use the IUCN Red List to prioritize which species to study, grow, conserve and restore in the wild,” says Dr Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International. “The latest update shows that we need to act urgently.”
 
"There are 380,000 species of plants named and described, with about 2,000 being added to the list every year. At Kew we estimate one in five of these are likely to be under threat of extinction right now, before we even factor in the impacts of climate change,” says Dr Tim Entwisle, Director, Conservation, Living Collections and Estates, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  “The Red Listing process highlights the state of knowledge for some of the critical groups like conifers and is the first step towards understanding and dealing with one of the biggest problems we have to face in the 21st Century - species extinction. For plants we are calibrating the Barometer of Life; for their relatives, the fungi and algae, we still have little sense of what is out there and what we are losing."

 “Each update of the IUCN Red List brings both encouraging and discouraging news. First it demonstrates that concentrated conservation actions, backed by solid natural and social science and local engagement, will result in successful efforts to conserve threatened species,” says Thomas E. Lacher, Jr., Professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University “However it also demonstrates that there is much still to accomplish, with worsening conditions for many species, including those only recently described.”

 “It is clear to me that society now has the capability to reverse species declines,” says Prof Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation Programmes at ZSL. “Fundamentally, it is our values that need to change if we are to avert the looming extinction crisis.”

 “Expanding both the number and diversity of species assessed on the IUCN Red List is imperative if we are to conserve the natural world.” says Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Wildscreen, who are working with the IUCN to help raise the public profile of the world’s threatened species, through the power of wildlife and environmental imagery. “We need to address our disconnection from the natural world, and will only succeed in rescuing species from the brink of extinction, if we successfully communicate their plight, significance, value and importance.”

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For more information or interviews please contact:

Maggie Roth, IUCN Media Relations, t +41 22 999 0115, m +41 79 104 2460, e maggie.roth@iucn.org  

Lynne Labanne, IUCN Species Programme Communications Officer, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0153,  m +41 79 527 7221,  e  lynne.labanne@iucn.org

Camellia Williams, IUCN  Species Programme Communications, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0154, e camellia.williams@iucn.org   

Images can be downloaded from here. These images may only be used in relation to this press release

A 2 minute b-roll video prepared by ARKive is available here.This b-roll may only be used in relation to this press release

Notes to editors:

The IUCN Red List contributes to the achievement of Target 12 of the 2011 to 2020 Strategic Plan for biodiversity. Target 12: By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.

Global figures for 2011.2 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

TOTAL SPECIES ASSESSED = 61,914

Extinct = 801
Extinct in the Wild = 64
Critically Endangered = 3,879
Endangered = 5,689
Vulnerable = 10,002
Near Threatened = 4,389
Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 257 (this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of the Red List)
Data Deficient = 9,709
Least Concern = 27,124

The figures presented above are only for those species that have been assessed for the IUCN Red List to date. Although not all of the world’s species have been assessed, the IUCN Red List provides a useful snapshot of what is happening to species today and highlights the urgent need for conservation action.

Relative percentages for threatened species cannot be provided for many taxonomic groups on the IUCN Red List because they have not been comprehensively assessed. For many of these groups, assessment efforts have focused on threatened species; therefore, the percentage of threatened species for these groups would be heavily biased.

For those groups that have been comprehensively assessed, the percentage of threatened species can be calculated, but the actual number of threatened species is often uncertain because it is not known whether Data Deficient (DD) species are actually threatened or not. Therefore, the percentages presented above provide the best estimate of extinction risk for those groups that have been comprehensively assessed (excluding Extinct species), based on the assumption that Data Deficient species are equally threatened as data sufficient species. In other words, this is a mid-point figure within a range from x% threatened species (if all DD species are not threatened) to y% threatened species (if all DD species are threatened). Available evidence indicates that this is a best estimate.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (or the IUCN Red List) is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It is based on an objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken.

Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as ‘Threatened’.

The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions.
The IUCN Red List is a joint effort between IUCN and its Species Survival Commission, working with its Red List partners BirdLife International; Botanic Gardens Conservation International; Conservation International; NatureServe; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Sapienza University of Rome; Texas A&M University; Wildscreen; and Zoological Society of London. www.iucnredlist.org  

The IUCN Red List threat categories

The IUCN Red List threat categories are as follows, in descending order of threat:

Extinct or Extinct in the Wild
Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable: species threatened with global extinction;
Near Threatened: species close to the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened without ongoing specific conservation measures;
Least Concern: species evaluated with a lower risk of extinction;
Data Deficient: no assessment because of insufficient data.
Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct): this is not a new Red List category, but is a flag developed to identify those Critically Endangered species that are in all probability already Extinct but for which confirmation is required, for example, through more extensive surveys being carried out and failing to find any individuals.

About IUCN

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.  www.iucn.org  

About BirdLife International

BirdLife International is a partnership of 114 national conservation organizations and the world leader in bird conservation. BirdLife's unique local to global approach enables it to deliver high impact and long term conservation for the benefit of nature and people. www.birdlife.org

About Botanic Gardens Conservation International

BGCI is an international organization that exists to ensure the world-wide conservation of threatened plants, the continued existence of which are intrinsically linked to global issues including poverty, human well-being and climate change. BGCI represents over 700 members - mostly botanic gardens - in 118 countries. We aim to support and empower our members and the wider conservation community so that their knowledge and expertise can be applied to reversing the threat of extinction crisis facing one third of all plants. http://www.bgci.org

About Conservation International

Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI has headquarters in the Washington, DC area, and nearly 900 employees working in more than 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, visit www.conservation.org , and follow us on Twitter: @ConservationOrg or Facebook: www.facebook.com/conservation.intl  

About NatureServe

NatureServe is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to providing the scientific basis for effective conservation action. Through its network of 82 natural heritage programs and conservation data centers in the United States, Canada, and Latin America, NatureServe provides a unique body of detailed scientific information and conservation biodiversity expertise about the plants, animals, and ecosystems of the Americas. www.natureserve.org

About the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organization, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10% of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species) and aim to conserve 25% by 2020. www.kew.org

About the Species Survival Commission

The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of around 7500 experts.  SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation, and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity.  SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation. 

About Texas A&M University

From humble beginnings in 1876 as Texas' first public institution of higher learning, to a bustling 5,200-acre campus with a nationally recognized faculty, Texas A&M University is one of a select few universities with land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant designations. With an enrolment of about half men and half women, 25 percent of the freshman class are the first in their family to attend college. Here, 39,000-plus undergraduates and more than 9,400 graduate students have access to world-class research programs and award-winning faculty. Texas A&M has two branch campuses, one in Galveston, Texas, and one in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar. This research-intensive flagship university with 10 colleges was recently ranked first in the nation by Smart Money magazine for "pay-back ratio" (what graduates earn compared to the cost of their education). The 2011 U.S. News and World Report ranked Texas A&M second nationally in their "Great Schools, Great Prices" category among public universities and 22nd overall. Many degree programs are ranked among the top 10 in the country. www.tamu.edu

About Wildscreen

Wildscreen is an international charity working to promote the public understanding and appreciation of the world's biodiversity and the need for its conservation through the power of wildlife imagery -www.wildscreen.org.uk Founded in 1982, Wildscreen is uniquely positioned at the heart of the global wildlife and environmental media industry, with a long standing international reputation for excellence and credibility in the fields of natural history media, communications and education. Wildscreen’s ARKive project is a unique global initiative, gathering together the very best films and photographs of the world's species into one centralized digital library, to create a stunning audio-visual record of life on Earth. ARKive’s immediate priority is to compile and complete audio-visual profiles for the c. 18,000 animals, plants and fungi featured on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. www.wildscreen.org.uk ; www.arkive.org

About the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)

Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: the key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in over 50 countries worldwide. www.zsl.org

About Sapienza University of Rome

With over 700 years of history and 145,000 students, Sapienza is the largest University in Europe, the second in the world after El Cairo: a city within the city. The University includes 11 faculties and 67 departments. In Sapienza there are over 4,500 professors, and 5,000 administrative and technical staff.  Sapienza offers a wide choice of courses including 300 degree programs and 200 specialized qualifications. Students coming from other regions are over 30,000 and the foreign students are over 7,000. Sapienza plans and carries out important scientific investigations in almost all disciplines, achieving high-standard results both on a national and on an international level. Professor Luigi Frati has been the Rector of Sapienza University since November 2008. http://www.uniroma1.it/

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