The most comprehensive assessment of the world's vertebrates confirms an
extinction crisis with one-fifth of species threatened. However, the situation
would be worse were it not for current global conservation efforts, according to
a study launched today at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention
on Biological Diversity, CBD, in Nagoya, Japan.
The study, to be published in the international journal Science, used data
for 25,000 species from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, to investigate
the status of the world's vertebrates (mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and
fishes) and how this status has changed over time. The results show that, on
average, 50 species of mammal, bird and amphibian move closer to extinction each
year due to the impacts of agricultural expansion, logging, over-exploitation,
and invasive alien species.
"The 'backbone' of biodiversity is being eroded," said the great American
ecologist and writer Professor Edward O. Wilson, at Harvard University. "One
small step up the Red List is one giant leap forward towards extinction. This is
just a small window on the global losses currently taking place."
Southeast Asia has experienced the most dramatic recent losses, largely
driven by the planting of export crops like oil palm, commercial hardwood timber
operations, agricultural conversion to rice paddies, and unsustainable hunting.
Parts of Central America, the tropical Andes of South America, and even
Australia, have also all experienced marked losses, in particular due to the
impact of the deadly chytrid fungus on amphibians.
Whilst the study confirms previous reports of continued losses in
biodiversity, it is the first to present clear evidence of the positive impact
of conservation efforts around the globe. Results show that the status of
biodiversity would have declined by at least an additional 20 percent if
conservation action had not been taken.
"The critical point from our analysis is the role that conservation plays in
slowing species losses. That means we can do something about this global problem
by taking concerted action at local national and regional scales", said Dr
Andrew A. Rosenberg, Senior Vice President for Science and Knowledge at
Conservation International and an author on the paper.
The study highlights 64 mammal, bird and amphibian species that have improved
in status due to successful conservation action. This includes three species
that were extinct in the wild and have since been re-introduced back to nature:
the California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus, and the Black-footed
Ferret, Mustela nigripes, in the United States, and Przewalski's Horse,
Equus ferus, in Mongolia.
Conservation efforts have been particularly successful at combatting invasive
alien species on islands. The global population of Seychelles Magpie-robin,
Copsychus sechellarum, increased from fewer than 15 birds in 1965 to
180 in 2006 through control of introduced predators, like Brown Rat, Rattus
norvegicus, and captive-breeding and re-introduction programmes. On
Mauritius, six bird species have undergone recoveries in status, including the
Mauritius Kestrel, Falco punctatus, whose population has increased from
just four birds in 1974 to nearly 1,000.
In South America, protected areas and a combination of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Vicuña Convention
helped spark the recovery of the Vicuña Vicugna vicugna. Similarly,
legislation enacted to ban commercial whaling has seen the Humpback Whale,
Megaptera novaeangliae, move from Vulnerable to Least Concern.
Unfortunately, very few amphibians have yet shown signs of recovery, but
international efforts are escalating, including a programme to reintroduce the
Kihansi Spray Toad, Nectophrynoides asperginis, back into the wild in
The authors caution that their study represents only a minimum estimate of
the true impact of conservation, highlighting that some 9 percent of threatened
species have increasing populations. Their results show that conservation works,
given resources and commitment. They also show that global responses will need
to be substantially scaled up, because the current level of conservation action
is outweighed by the magnitude of threat. In this light, policy-makers at the
CBD meeting in Nagoya have been calling for a very significant increase in
resources – from extremely low current levels – to make the objectives of the
"This is clear evidence for why we absolutely must emerge from Nagoya with a
strategic plan of action to direct our efforts for biodiversity in the coming
decade" said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN. "It is a clarion
call for all of us – governments, businesses, citizens – to mobilize resources
and drive the action required. Conservation does work – but it needs our
support, and it needs it fast!"
The paper highlights that the percentage of species threatened among
vertebrates ranges from 13 percent of birds to 41 percent of amphibians.
Although the study focused on vertebrates, it also reports on the levels of
threat among several other groups assessed for the IUCN Red List, including 14
percent of seagrasses, 32 percent of freshwater crayfish, and 33 percent of
The level of threat among cycads is extremely critical, with 63 percent
threatened with extinction. Cycads, the most ancient group of seed plants alive
today, are subject to extremely high levels of illegal harvesting and trade, and
are in danger of going the same way as the dinosaurs.
Recently, a UN-sponsored study called The Economics of Ecosystems and
Biodiversity (TEEB) calculated the cost of losing nature at $2-5 trillion per
year, predominantly in poorer parts of the world. A recent study found one-fifth
of more than 5,000 freshwater species in Africa are threatened, putting the
livelihoods of millions of people dependent on these vital resources at
Failure to meet the internationally agreed 2010 target to reduce biodiversity
loss does not mean that conservation efforts have been in vain, as this study
demonstrates. However, the erosion of biodiversity has reached such dangerous
levels that we cannot afford to fail again. Ambitious targets are needed for
2020, and to meet them will require urgent and concerted action on a greatly
expanded scale. It is time for the world's Governments, meeting in Nagoya, to
rise effectively to this global challenge.
Quotes from Red List Partner organizations
"History has shown us that conservation can achieve the impossible, as anyone
who knows the story of the White Rhinoceros in southern Africa knows", remarked
Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission and an author on
the study. "But this is the first time we can demonstrate the aggregated
positive impact of these successes on the state of the environment."
"We know what has to be done to save individual species from extinction,"
said Alison Stattersfield, BirdLife's Head of Science and one of the authors on
the paper. "Through BirdLife's Preventing Extinctions Programme we are taking
effective – and cost-effective - action for the world's Critically Endangered
birds. But much more effort is needed, through NGOs, Governments, businesses and
committed individuals working together, to stop the slide towards extinction and
start to address the root causes of biodiversity loss."
"This study testifies to the transformative power of conservation", said Dr
Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International,
"It shows that if we can emerge from Nagoya with a clear conservation strategy
and the resources to secure the future of the world's plants, we can radically
improve the status of this group of species that has such tremendous cultural
and economic importance for society."
"This landmark analysis proves that, when guided by detailed data and
supported by adequate financing, conservation of threatened species and their
habitats works", said Mary Klein, President and CEO of Natureserve, "We know
what can and must be done to safeguard biodiversity – we just need to do much
more of it."
"A recent study on plants coordinated by Kew and
involving several IUCN partners, suggested that just over one-fifth of all
plant species are threatened, that most threatened plant species are found in
the tropics and that the most threatening process is man-induced habitat loss",
said Professor Stephen Hopper, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
"Conifers, with a world-wide presence in virtually all types of forest, face
extinction for at least 29 percent of species. Many are 'keystone' species,
without which their ecosystem could collapse, taking other species with them to
extinction. Unsustainable logging and deforestation are the main causes. Clearly
it is important to continue and increase conservation actions across the globe."
"The conservation of biodiversity is a daunting challenge that requires a
robust base of scientific information and theoretical framework. The Red List
Partnership, of which our University is member, is a unique combination of
centres of excellence sharing the responsibility of advancing the science of
biodiversity assessment and maintaining updated information on the trends of
biodiversity status", said Dr Luigi Boitani of Sapienza University of Rome, and
an author on the study. "Expanding the coverage of species and monitoring their
status through time is a responsibility we cannot postpone anymore."
"The results of this study suggest that we must adopt a broader and more
comprehensive approach to conservation, one that includes not only protected
areas but also better strategies to work with rural communities and traditional
people to conserve biodiversity in places where people use the land for their
support", said Professor Thomas Lacher, Jr., at Texas A&M University, and an
author on the paper. "We cannnot afford piecemeal approaches."
"This paper is proof that conservation is working. Now we have to scale-up
our efforts to match the unprecedented threats faced by the natural world," said
Professor Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation Programmes at the
Zoological Society of London and an author on the paper.
"While the outlook for many species is still grim, this report is a testament
to the real and valuable impact conservation work can have" said Harriet Nimmo,
Chief Executive of Wildscreen, who are working with IUCN to help raise the
public profile of the world's threatened species. "We need to urgently 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."
The study involved some 174 authors from 115 institutions and 38 countries.
It was made possible by the voluntary contributions of more than 3,000
scientists under the auspices of IUCN's Species Survival Commission, and a
growing partnership of organizations, including BirdLife International, Botanic
Gardens Conservation International, Conservation International, NatureServe,
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Sapienza Università di Roma, Texas A&M
University, Wildscreen, and the Zoological Society of London.
For information about more species on the IUCN Red List please visit www.iucnredlist.org
For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
IUCN Media Relations Officer
m +41 79 528 3486
Species Programme Communications Officer, IUCN,
m +41 79 527 7221
Patricia Yakabe Malentaqui
+1 571 225 8345
For high resolution photos please contact
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Global figures for 2010.4 IUCN Red List of Threatened
Total species assessed = 55,926
Extinct = 791
Extinct in the Wild = 63
Critically Endangered = 3,565
Endangered = 5,256
Vulnerable = 9,530
Near Threatened = 4,014
Total Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 269 [this is an old category that
is gradually being phased out of the Red List]
Data Deficient = 8,358
Least Concern = 24,080
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
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 threat categories
The IUCN Red List threat categories are as follows,in descending order of
- 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
- 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).
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.
BirdLife International is a
partnership of 114 national conservation organisations 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
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.
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 well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington,
DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents.
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
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
is a world famous scientific organisation, 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 percent of the world's wild flowering
plant species (c.30, 000 species) and aim to conserve 25 percent by 2020.
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.
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
Wildscreen is an international charity working
to to promote the public understanding and appreciation of the world's
biodiversity and the need for its conservation through the power of wildlife
imagery. 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 centralised 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.
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
Founded in 1826,
the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific,
conservation and educational charity: our 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 overseas.