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IUCN Red List Update June 2011

22 June 2011

The focus of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Update 2011 is centered on animal species with the recovery of the African Oryx from near extinction to a wild population of 1,000 individuals. Another focus is amphibians and a completed assessment for the conservation status of  the entire lobsters species.

Co-incidentally, BGCI working with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh have recently completed a Red List for Rhododendron report.

Biodiversity loss

Biodiversity loss is one of the world’s most pressing crises, with many species declining to critically low levels. Numerous extinctions are taking place unnoticed, and the number of species classified as Critically Endangered (those at most severe risk of becoming extinct) is increasing. Estimations from the IUCN Red List indicate that extinctions are happening at anywhere from 100 to 1,000 times the ‘background’ or natural rate. The causes are many, including habitat destruction, land conversion for agriculture and development, climate change, pollution, illegal wildlife trade, and the spread of invasive species.

Dr Tim Entwisle, Director of Conservation, Living Collections and Estates at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says, “Recent work carried out by Kew, in partnership with IUCN, estimates that one fifth of plants are listed as being threatened with extinction. Habitat loss, climate change, over-harvesting, disease, and the spread of invasive aliens, are all contributing to their demise and scientific evidence is vital if we are to monitor, understand and respond to the challenges facing plants on earth.” 

Animal Focus

Of the 19 species of  amphibian (frogs, toads and salamanders) that have been added to the IUCN Red List this year, eight are listed as Critically Endangered, including Atelopus patazensis, a species of harlequin toad from Peru, and Dendrotriton chujorum, a dwarf species of salamander from Guatemala. Amphibians remain one of the most threatened species groups with an estimated 41% at risk of extinction; the main threats they face include habitat loss, pollution, disease and invasive species.

In the case of New Caledonia’s endemic reptiles, which have been assessed for the first time, two thirds (67%) of species within this group for which we have sufficient data are at risk of extinction. Many of these reptiles are threatened by ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation as New Caledonia’s nickel mining industry continues to expand. This is compounded by the effects of introduced species; for example, deer and pigs damage remaining available habitat, and fire ants, which are invasive alien species, decimate lizard populations, leading to localized extinctions.

“The key to halting the extinction crisis is to target efforts towards eradicating the major threats faced by species and their environment; only then can their future be secured. The IUCN Red List acts as a gateway to such efforts, by providing decision makers with a goldmine of information not only on the current status of the species, but also on existing threats and the conservation actions required,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission.

An assessment of all 248 lobster species has been completed, with 35% being classified as Data Deficient, including the Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus). This species shows decreasing populations as a result of over-exploitation, but unfortunately very little else is known about it. An estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide rely on marine species for food and livelihoods, so obtaining reliable information on catch levels is essential.

“It is extremely important that we keep pushing forward with surveys of little-known species, as without adequate data, we cannot determine their risk of extinction and therefore cannot develop or implement effective conservation actions which could prevent the species from disappearing altogether,” says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN’s Global Species Programme. 

Background information for the 2011 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 

Global figures for 2011.1 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:


Extinct = 797
Extinct in the Wild = 64
Critically Endangered = 3,801
Endangered = 5,566
Vulnerable = 9,898
Near Threatened = 4,273
Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 260 (this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of the Red List)
Data Deficient = 8,996
Least Concern = 25,853

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 (DD) 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.

For example, for amphibians, 41% of species are threatened, although the precise figure is uncertain and could lie between 30% (if all DD species are not threatened) and 56% (if all DD species are threatened).

For New Caledonia endemic reptiles, 67% of species are threatened, although the precise figure is uncertain and could lie between 61% (if all DD species are not threatened) and 70% (if all DD species are threatened).

Red Listing Process

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.”

For more information see the  IUCN Red List website

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