- Director of Marketing and Development
- Visit the IUCN Red List for information and case studies about species.
- View or download high-resolution images of species.
- To request a two-minute video B-roll prepared by ARKive, contact Lynne Labanne, Species Programme Communications Officer, IUCN, +41 22 999 0153
- Copies of the embargoed Science paper, “The impact of conservation on the status of the world’s vertebrates,” may be obtained from the AAAS Office of Public Programs by calling (202) 326-6440 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nature’s Backbone at Risk
Study published in Science investigates the status of the world’s mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes and how vertebrates’ status has changed over time
- The most comprehensive assessment of the world’s vertebrates confirms an extinction crisis with one-fifth of species threatened.
- In an average year, 50 species of mammal, bird and amphibian move closer to extinction due to the impacts of agricultural expansion, logging, over-exploitation, and invasive alien species.
- The study, which involved some 174 authors from 115 institutions and 38 countries, concludes that the situation would be worse were it not for current global conservation efforts.
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 Professor E.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% if conservation action had not been taken.
“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, one of five members of IUCN’s Red List Partnership. “We know what can and must be done to safeguard biodiversity—we just need to do much more of it.”
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 combating 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 programs. 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 Vicu??a Convention helped spark the recovery of the vicu??a (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 program to reintroduce the Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis), back into the wild in Tanzania.
The authors caution that their study represents only a minimum estimate of the true impact of conservation, highlighting that some 9% of threatened species have increasing populations. But their results 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 at least a hundred-fold increase in resources to make the objectives of the Convention achievable.
“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 call for the mobilization of public and private resources at international, national and local levels to drive the action required.”
The paper highlights that the percentage of species threatened among vertebrates ranges from 13% of birds to 41% of amphibians. Although the study focused on vertebrates, it also reports that several other groups assessed for the IUCN Red List are highly threatened, including 13% of dragonflies and 33% of reef-building corals.
The level of threat among cycads is extremely critical, with 63% 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.
Much has been made of the failure to meet the internationally agreed target to reduce biodiversity loss, but as the current study demonstrates this does not mean conservation efforts have been in vain. However, to mitigate the crisis much more is urgently required to remedy the tremendous shortfall. A major announcement is expected at the end of the conference, partly in response to the results of the study, to address the pressing need for further conservation action.
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.
“The ‘backbone’ of biodiversity is being eroded. 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.”
E.O. Wilson, Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
“This landmark analysis proves that, when guided by detailed data and supported by adequate financing, conservation of threatened species and their habitats works. We know what can and must be done to safeguard biodiversity—we just need to do much more of it.”
Mary Klein, president and CEO of NatureServe, one of five members of IUCN’s Red List Partnership
“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. It is a call for the mobilization of public and private resources at international, national and local levels to drive the action required.”
Julia Marton-Lef??vre, Director General of IUCN
“History has shown us that conservation can achieve the impossible, as anyone who knows the story of the White Rhinoceros in southern Africa is aware. But this is the first time we can demonstrate the aggregated positive impact of these successes on the state of the environment.”
Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and co-author of the study
About the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM (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 are the following, 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).
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. Learn more at www.iucn.org
NatureServe is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to providing the scientific basis for effective conservation action and a member of the IUCN Red List Partnership. 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. Learn more at www.natureserve.org.