IUCN Red List of Ecosystems

Piloting the Red List of Ecosystems in the AmericasNorth and South America

About This Project

With the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation we are initiating the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems of the Americas. The scientific aim is to document the conservation status of terrestrial ecosystems (uplands and wetlands) of the Americas by developing a series of baselines across the continental distribution of each type, assessing land cover change against these baselines, quantifying the drivers of change, and applying the Red List criteria to each ecosystem type. NatureServe terrestrial ecological systems and IVC vegetation macrogroups are primary units of assessment.

This effort is generating:

  • Classification and description of ecosystem types
  • Conceptual models describing environmental setting, key ecological processes and interactions, major threats and stressors, and indications of ecological collapse.
  • Maps of potential/historical as well as current distribution
  • Maps depicting stressor and condition indicators
  • Tabular summaries of applied IUCN assessment criteria
  • Maps depicting location of ecosystem types scored as Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered.

Once completed, this effort will be built upon through deeper analysis and expansion to other realms (freshwater aquatic, marine, subterranean) in coming years.  It now serves as a test case for informing the IUCN goal to complete global red listing of ecosystems by 2025.

For information on the broader effort visit The Americas Project Page and Americas Project Facebook Page.

Goal

Accelerating landscape change threatens biological diversity worldwide. Therefore, knowledge of trends in the extent and condition of ecosystems provides a key foundation for conservation action.  Risk assessment of ecosystem types provides a compliment the IUCN Red List of Species.  Assessment of ecosystem types addresses ecological processes for many species that share similar habitat requirements, and for many other species for which little is known.

For this project we will document which upland and wetland ecosystem types should be considered “Vulnerable” “Endangered” or “Critically Endangered” using newly developed criteria by IUCN.  With several hundred described and mapped types as assessment units, we will document which forest, savanna, shrub-scrub, grassland, desert, wetland, and riparian types are of greatest conservation concern.

As compared with individual species, ecosystems represent recurring patterns of species assemblages that reflect biogeography, patterns in the physical environment, and dynamic ecological processes. Outright conversion (e.g., for intensive agriculture), or change in either the physical environment or dynamic processes may result in a departure from expected species composition. Therefore, ecosystem risk assessment aims to detect trends in the magnitude of change to species composition. Threats to ecosystems result in a departure from expected species composition to varying degrees. For ecosystems, the analog to species extinction (i.e., population collapse) is the transformation of species composition and ecological processes to an alternate condition from that which was previously supported. Therefore, the “collapse” of a given example of an ecosystem type occurs where ecological conditions have transformed beyond recognition.

This assessment will evaluate each type across its natural range of distribution to score it for risk of rangewide collapse.

For More information visit on the IUCN project visit: IUCN Red List of Ecosystems.

Significance

By documenting the relative at-risk conservation status of ecosystem types, we provide one key input to conservation priority-setting.  Maps indicating the current locations of red-listed ecosystems can be used to target location for protective action.  Historical locations of these types support resource allocation decisions for ecological restoration.  Indicators used in assessment point to key ecological process targeted in restorative conservation. These assessments should provide a useful compliment to analogous information for species of conservation concern. Overall lists and maps of types facilitate regional and national accounting of biodiversity status by governments and civil society.