Scientists call for biodiversity barometer

4/8/2010

EN ESPAÑOL

Gland, Switzerland / Washington, DC - For the first time scientists have put a figure on how much it would cost to learn about the status of millions of species, some of which have yet to be identified. The price tag is US $60 million, according to a team of scientists, including those from IUCN and Conservation International, who presented their case in this week’s Science magazine in an article called “The Barometer of Life.”

“Our knowledge about species and extinction rates remains very poor, and this has negative consequences for our environment and economy,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “By expanding the current IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to include up to approximately 160,000 well-chosen species, we will have a good barometer for informing decisions globally.”

To date, almost 48,000 species have been assessed on the IUCN Red List, which costs about US $4 million each year.  Most of this work is carried out by thousands of volunteers worldwide through the Species Survival Commission. 

Globally, only 1.9 million species have been identified, though the estimated number of species is thought to be somewhere between 10 and 20 million.  While the Red List contains assessments of all species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reef-building corals, freshwater crabs, cycads and conifers, the vast majority of the world’s species are poorly represented, including many plants, invertebrates, reptiles, fishes and fungi.

“The more we learn about indicator species, the more we know about the status of the living environment that sustains us all,” says Edward O. Wilson, a prominent biologist at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.  “Threatened species, in particular, need to be targeted to enable better conservation and policy decisions.”   

“We urgently need to ramp up current efforts to catalogue a far more representative selection of our vast biodiversity, while we still can, and we should focus first and foremost on those areas of highest extinction risk,” says Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of IUCN/SSC  Primate Specialist Group.  “Such information will also help governments and communities to design appropriate responses to climate change and to other pressing conservation challenges.” 

“Another important challenge ahead is to strengthen scientific capacity for performing Red List assessments in biodiversity-rich areas. The developing world is home to most of the earth’s species, but human resources for monitoring this natural wealth are seriously lacking,” says Jon Paul Rodríguez, an ecologist at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Investigation and the Venezuelan NGO Provita, who serves as Deputy Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission.

“The fact that we will not achieve the 2010 target to halt the loss of biodiversity is disheartening,” says Jeff McNeely, Senior Science Advisor, IUCN.  “But complaining will not help nearly as much as a redoubled effort to conserve what remains of our planet’s living wealth. The Barometer of Life offers us an effective tool for measuring our progress towards saving life on earth.”

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For more information or to receive a copy of the paper, contact:

Nicki Chadwick, Media Relations Officer, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0229, m +41 76 771 4208, e nicki.chadwick@iucn.org

Patricia Yakabe Malentaqui, Press Officer, Conservation International, t +1 703 341 2471, m +1 571 225 8345, e p.malentaqui@conservation.org

Note to Editors:

The authors of the Science article “The Barometer of Life” are:  Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), Bath, UK; Edward O. Wilson, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA; Jeffrey A. McNeely, Senior Science  Advisor, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland; Russell A. Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA, and Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group; Jon Paul Rodriguez, Centro de Ecología, Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas, Caracas, Venezuela, and SSC Deputy Chair.

About 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. www.iucnredlist.org

About IUCN

IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges. IUCN works on biodiversity, climate change, energy, human livelihoods and greening the world economy by supporting scientific research, managing field projects all over the world, and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, with more than 1,000 government and NGO members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. www.iucn.org

About Conservation International

Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, Conservation International (CI) empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. www.conservation.org

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