Madagascar’s palms near extinction




Hyderabad, India – Eighty three percent of Madagascar’s palms are threatened with extinction, putting the livelihoods of local people at risk – according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ released today by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The update brings the total number of species listed on The IUCN Red List to 65,518, of which 20,219 are threatened with extinction.

The assessment of Madagascar’s palms was carried out by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Palm Specialist Group, as part of an ongoing assessment of all palms. The findings draw on research by experts at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - an IUCN Red List partner.

"The figures on Madagascar’s palms are truly terrifying, especially as the loss of palms impacts both the unique biodiversity of the island and its people,” says Dr Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “This situation cannot be ignored.”

Palms are an integral part of Madagascar’s biodiversity and all of the 192 species assessed are unique to the island. They provide essential resources to some of Madagascar’s poorest communities, such as materials for house construction and edible palm hearts. Habitat loss and palm heart harvesting are major threats putting these species at risk. 
“The majority of Madagascar’s palms grow in the island’s eastern rain forests, which have already been reduced to less than one quarter of their original size and which continue to disappear,” says Dr William Baker, Chair of the IUCN SSC Palm Specialist Group and Head of Palm Research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “The high extinction risk faced by Madagascar’s palms reflects the decline in these forests, which threatens all of the remarkable wildlife that occurs there.”
Populations of many palm species are at risk as land is being cleared for agriculture and logging.
Ravenea delicatula, (Critically Endangered), is known from just one site, but the site is not protected and it is being threatened by local people clearing the forest to cultivate hill rice, and by miners looking for minerals and gems such as rubies. 
The recently discovered Tahina Palm (Tahina spectabilis), also known as the Suicide Palm, has been listed for the first time on The IUCN Red List. Large enough to be viewed on Google Earth, it grows up to 18m in height. A few months after flowering and producing seeds, the tree dies. With only 30 mature palms found in the wild, it is classified as Critically Endangered, and much of its habitat has been converted to agricultural lands. 
Dypsis brittiana is known from one location only – in the recently established Makira Natural Park. Although the site is protected, the species may have already been lost as a result of habitat degradation. No plants were found in a survey carried out in 2007 and for this reason it has been classified as Critically Endangered. Further survey work is needed to confirm its status.
Ongoing seed harvest also poses a threat to some species.
Dypsis tokoravina (Critically Endangered) is targeted by seed collectors who cut the palm down. It is estimated that fewer than 30 of these palms exist in the wild. Another popular palm species in international horticulture is the Majestic Palm (Ravenea rivularis). Its status has changed from Vulnerable to Endangered due to a continued decrease in the number of mature palms, decline in the extent and quality of its habitat and ongoing harvest of seeds – despite strict trade regulations.
“The national system of protected areas, managed by Madagascar National Parks, offers protection to some, but by no means all, of Madagascar's palm species,” says Dr Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group. “The key to saving Madagascar's palms, and its biodiversity in general, is strongly dependent on the closest possible collaboration with local communities - especially in this period of severe political instability during which government agencies are working well below standard. Unfortunately this extremely high degree of threat in Madagascar is not unique to palms.”
This assessment of Madagascar’s palms provides conservationists with a firm basis to take direct action on the ground.
Well managed seed harvesting and habitat protection can offer a solution to conserve some species. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has initiated several conservation projects to protect some of Madagascar’s most charismatic threatened species of palms. One project encourages local communities to protect the Vulnerable Manambe Palm (Dypsis decipiens) and the Critically Endangered Dypsis ambositrae in the Itremo proposed protected area. For the Tahina Palm, the power of the horticultural community is being harnessed to protect it. Assisted by Madagascar's national seed bank, sustainably-harvested seeds are sold through a commercial palm seed merchant. The money flows back to the local people who use it to renovate buildings and grow food more productively.
“While some species of palm may respond to focused species conservation action, securing the future for Madagascar’s palms requires wide-scale efforts,” says Jane Smart.  “Madagascar has made great progress to preserve its unique wildlife by conserving 10% of the island in protected areas. But a game-changing conservation effort is needed to protect the remaining habitat and create more protected areas, in line with the Aichi targets to save the world’s biodiversity, which many governments committed to in 2010.”
Quotes from IUCN Red List partner organizations
“As with Madagascar’s palms, each threatened species has unique adaptations, and forms a thread in the ecological fabric – often they also have direct significance for peoples’ livelihoods. This case shows clearly why greater investment is needed for threatened species conservation,” says Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife International’s Director of Science, Policy and Information.
“We will continue to see entire groups of species threatened with extinction if governments continue to get away with investing a pittance in conservation and avoiding national or international commitments that ensure the protection of all species,” says Prof. Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation Programmes at ZSL.  “We need real commitments from governments, associated with binding legislation and sufficient funds to ensure effective implementation.”  
“The precarious status of palm species in Madagascar also underscores the urgent need to assess the status of more than 500 species of palms in the Western Hemisphere, fewer than 10% of which have been evaluated so far. NatureServe, having led assessment for more than 30,000 species of plants in the Americas to date, is excited to help address this challenge,” says Mary Klein, President and CEO of NatureServe.
“It is tragic to witness the decline of Madagascar’s unique flora. There are conservation solutions for plants and we must act now,” says Sara Oldfield, Secretary General, Botanical Gardens Conservation International, BGCI “The IUCN Red List is an essential first step in the conservation process, identifying which plants and animals most need assistance to guarantee their future.”
“The most recent IUCN Red List update, focused on the palms of Madagascar, highlights the relevance of The IUCN Red List to country-level conservation efforts,” says Dr Thomas Lacher, Jr Professor, Texas A&M University. “This assessment will guide conservation efforts in Madagascar to target appropriate agency and community-level conservation actions that will both conserve the biodiversity of Madagascar and provide sustainable use options to the communities that depend upon these resources.”
“This announcement highlights why The IUCN Red List is so essential. It is through The IUCN Red List that the world becomes aware of pending ecological catastrophes – like the case of Madagascar’s Palms,” says Lucas Joppa, Conservation Scientist at Microsoft Research.  “The vigilant work of IUCN, SSC, and their partners is essential to identify critical problems and enact effective interventions. As Madagascar’s plight so plainly shows, this isn’t just about biodiversity: it is about people’s livelihoods. Ignoring this finding is simply not an option.”
For more information or interviews please contact:
Ewa Magiera, t +41 22 999 0346 m +41 79 856 76 26, e
Lynne Labanne, IUCN Species Programme Communications Officer, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0153,  m +41 79 527 7221,  e
Camellia Williams, IUCN  Species Programme Communications, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0154, e 
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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.
To save threatened species from extinction, such as Madagascar palms, countries need to develop plans to achieve other Aichi targets in particular:
• Target 5 – Habitat loss reduced
• Target 7 – Sustainable management (aquaculture, agriculture and forestry)
• Target 11 – Protected areas increased
• Target 17 – National biodiversity strategies and action plans developed
• Target 20 – Financial resources increased
The Madagascan palms were assessed through the IUCN SSC Palm Specialist Group by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew palm experts Dr Mijoro Rakotoarinivo (based at the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre in Antananarivo) and Dr John Dransfield (now retired). Both are active members of the IUCN SSC Palm Specialist Group. Dr Rakotoarinivo is also a member of the IUCN SSC Madagascar Plant Specialist Group. Dr William Baker, Chair of the IUCN SSC Palm Specialist Group, Head of Palm Research at Kew, and also member of the IUCN Plant Conservation Subcommittee, was responsible for the review of all assessments.
It is important to recognize that knowledge of Madagascar’s palms is still evolving. By investing in ongoing exploration for Madagascar’s palms, Kew’s palm experts have made many discoveries. For example, they have described 23 new species in the past five years, all of which are sadly threatened with extinction. There has been positive news too – Beccariophoenix madagascariensis was assessed as Critically Endangered in 1998, but through Kew’s explorations several sizeable new populations of this spectacular palm have been discovered, resulting in the down listing of its threat status to Vulnerable.
Kew is working with other organizations on the ground in Madagascar to ensure that conservation managers have all of the available information on important populations and the extinction risk of key species. As well as conducting baseline surveys, taxonomic revisions and research on the effects of population fragmentation, Kew’s Madagascar team have pioneered the use of niche modeling and predictive mapping to help find new populations and have published a field guide to palms aimed at conservationists in English and Malagasy.
Global figures for the 2012.2 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:
(Total threatened species = 20,219)
Extinct = 795
Extinct in the Wild = 63
Critically Endangered = 4,088
Endangered = 5,919
Vulnerable = 10,212
Near Threatened = 4,574
Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 254 (this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of the Red List)
Data Deficient = 10,673
Least Concern = 28,940
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.
Highlights from the 2012.2 update
Species moving into the Extinct category
• Invertebrates
o Margatteoidea amoena
o Neoplanorbis tantillus
Re-discovered species
• Plants
o Erythrina schliebenii – Critically Endangered
Status changes
• Plants
o Erythrina schliebeni – moved from Extinct to Critically Endangered
o Newtonia erlangeri – moved from Near Threatened to Endangered
• Marine Fish
o Great Seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi) – moved from Data Deficient to Vulnerable
• Invertebrates
o Painted Rocksnail (Leptoxis taeniata) – moved from Vulnerable to Endangered
o Fat Pocketbook Pearly Mussel (Potamilus capax) – moved from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable
o Huachuca Springsnail (Pyrgulopsis thompsoni) – moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened
• Mammals
o Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus) – moved from Endangered to Near Threatened
• Reptiles
o Grand Cayman Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) – moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered
Some examples of the over 1,682 species newly recorded on the 2012.2 IUCN Red List
• Invertebrates
o Dasypoda frieseana - Endangered
• Reptiles
o Acanthocercus adramitanus – Least Concern
o Acanthodactylus felicis - Vulnerable
o Egyptian Mastigure (Uromastyx aegypti) – Vulnerable
• Fresh Water Fishes
o Siberian Taimen (Hucho taimen) – Vulnerable
o Sichuan Taimen (Hucho bleekeri) – Critically Endangered
o Korean Taimen (Hucho ishikiwae) – Data Deficient
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, animal and fungi 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; Microsoft; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Sapienza University of Rome; Texas A&M University; Wildscreen; and Zoological Society of London.  @amazingspecies
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.
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 7,500 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 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.
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.
About Conservation International (CI)
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 and marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI has headquarters in the Washington DC area, and 900 employees working in nearly 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world.  For more information, please visit at, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
About Microsoft
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.
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.
About the 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 RBG 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. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species). The aim is to conserve 25 per cent by 2020, and its enormous potential for future conservation can only be fulfilled with the support of the public and other funders.
Kew receives funding from the UK Government through Defra for approximately half of its income and is also reliant on support from other sources. Without the voluntary monies raised through membership, donations and grants, Kew would have to significantly scale back activities at a time when, as environmental challenges become ever more acute, its resources and expertise are needed in the world more than ever. Kew needs to raise significant funds both in the UK and overseas.
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.
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.
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 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. 19,000 animals, plants and fungi listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. ;
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.

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