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NatureServe’s status assessment work is integral to global conservation initiatives. As a founding member of the IUCN Red List Partnership, NatureServe contributes to the growing number of Red List assessments available for species worldwide. The criteria for determining Red List categories have much overlap with the factors used in determining NatureServe status ranks, allowing for data transfer between the two systems. NatureServe chairs the North American Plant Red List Authority, contributing data and expertise to a number of efforts to assess U.S. and Canadian species against the Red List criteria. NatureServe ecologists have also helped to establish criteria and are red listing of terrestrial ecosystems.

Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) NatureServe Conservation Status: Secure (G5). Photo by Allen Shimada, NOAA/NMFS/OST/AMD.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is an objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species. It draws on a network of scientists and partner organizations working in almost every country in the world. NatureServe scientists have worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in this effort for more than a decade. NatureServe is the Red List authority for North American plants. Our staff are also members of IUCN red list committees that address amphibians, freshwater fishes, and climate change.

Value

The goal of the IUCN Red List is to provide information and analyses on the status, trends, and threats to species in order to inform and catalyze action for biodiversity conservation. The IUCN has for more than four decades been assessing the conservation status of species, subspecies, varieties, and even selected subpopulations on a global scale in order to highlight taxa threatened with extinction, and therefore promote their conservation. The IUCN remains firmly committed to providing the world with the most objective, scientifically-based information on the current status of globally threatened biodiversity.

The plants and animals assessed for the IUCN Red List are the bearers of genetic diversity and, ultimately, the source of our food, medicines, and clean water. They are the building blocks of our planet’s ecosystems, and they support the livelihoods of millions of people. Information on their distribution, abundance, trends, and threats is critical for making wise decisions about how best to protect and manage Earth’s biodiversity and our own life support system.

Features & Benefits

The IUCN Red List aims to:

  • Establish a baseline from which to monitor the change in status of species.
  • Provide a global context for the establishment of conservation priorities at the local level.
  • Monitor, on a continuing basis, the status of a representative selection of species (as biodiversity indicators) that covers all the major ecosystems of the world.

The standards and scientific integrity of the IUCN Red List are maintained in the following ways:

  • The scientific aspects underpinning the IUCN Red List are regularly published in the scientific literature.
  • The assessment process is clear and transparent.
  • The listings of species are based on correct use of the Red List Categories and Criteria and are open to challenge and correction.
  • All assessments are appropriately documented and supported by the best scientific information available.
  • The data are freely available through the World Wide Web to all potential users.
  • The IUCN Red List is updated regularly, but not all species are reassessed with each update – many assessments simply roll-over from the previous edition.
  • Analyses of the findings of the Red List are regularly published, approximately every four to five years, usually at the time of the World Conservation Congress.

Learn More

Partners & Collaborators

Contacts

  • Bruce Young
    NatureServeChief Zoologist and Senior Conservation Scientist
    Email
    (703) 908-1805
Photo by Ronald D. Karpilo Jr.

IUCN Red List of Ecosystems

Piloting the Red List of Ecosystems in the Americas

About This Project

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 complement the IUCN Red List of Species and NatureServe Conservation Status ranks. 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.

We are helping to initiate the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems of the Americas. The scientific aim of this effort 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.

The red listing process involves

  • Classification and description of ecosystem types
  • Description of natural environmental setting, key ecological processes and interactions, major threats and stressors, and indicators 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.
  • After an initial focus on upland and wetland ecosystem types, we aim to expand assessments to other realms (freshwater aquatic, marine, subterranean).

Goal

Through this process, we document which upland and wetland ecosystem types should be considered “Vulnerable (VU)” “Endangered (EN)” or “Critically Endangered (CR)” using newly developed criteria by IUCN. Othe catergories include “Near Threatened (NT)” “Least Concern (LC)” and “Data Deficient (DD)” and “Not Evaluated (NE).” With several hundred described and mapped types as assessment units, we are documenting which forest, savanna, shrub-scrub, grassland, desert, wetland, and riparian types are of most urgent conservation need.

About This Project

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.

Preliminary Findings for Red List Status in the USA
Initial application of IUCN Red List of Ecosystems criteria in the USA provides a demonstration of an approach to rapidly assess the majority of types and “paint the picture” of ecosystem status. Following from this analysis, investments to fill key information gaps may be targeted to maximize their impact and complete the picture.

From this preliminary analysis, 108 terrestrial ecosystem types may be confidently scored as either CR, EN, or VU using assessment criteria for long-term trends in extent (A3), restricted distributions (B1 and B2), Long-term trends in environmental degradation (C3), and long-term trends in biotic process disruption (D3). Types scored as CR, EN, and VU represent 17% of all described types from the NatureServe terrestrial ecological systems classification. Historically, these ecosystems occurred across about 37% of the continental study area, and today account for just 12%. Here we have focused on ecosystem types that have been described and mapped. It may be safe to presume that, in a continent has heavy transformed as temperate North America, there may well be ecosystem types that were never documented prior to their elimination.

RLE Status

# Types

% types

Total Potential Extent (km2)

% historic land area

Sum of Current Land Area (km2)

% total land area

CR

11

2%

499,033

4.70%

30,534

0.3%

CR (EN-CR)

17

3%

570,067

5.37%

107,508

1.0%

EN

16

2%

689,094

6.49%

183,207

1.7%

CR (VU-CR)

5

1%

14,633

0.14%

4,754

0.0%

EN (VU-EN)

32

5%

956,494

9.01%

301,574

2.8%

VU (VU-EN)

11

2%

340,765

3.21%

191,898

1.8%

VU

16

2%

889,758

8.38%

440,648

4.2%

EN (LC-EN)

38

6%

776,932

7.32%

541,565

5.1%

VU (LC-EN)

12

2%

623,465

5.87%

488,555

4.6%

VU (LC-VU)

95

14%

2,358,296

22.22%

2,066,108

19.5%

NT (NT-EN)

2

0%

295,495

2.78%

191,676

1.8%

NT (LC-VU)

2

0%

19,068

0.18%

9,670

0.1%

NT (LC-NT)

10

1%

214,646

2.02%

201,791

1.9%

LC (LC-EN)

2

0%

29,524

0.28%

7,381

0.1%

LC (LC-VU)

15

2%

447,610

4.22%

332,408

3.1%

LC (LC-NT)

2

0%

63,690

0.60%

38,746

0.4%

LC

64

10%

930,983

8.77%

787,344

7.4%

DD

181

27%

241,927

2.28%

292,834

2.8%

NE

139

21%

651,615

6.14%

638,497

6.0%

Grand Total

670

100%

10,613,096

100.00%

6,856,697

64.6%

Given the continental scale of this analysis, and reliance on spatial data sets, we have utilized the option to score types within a plausible range. This provides a practical indication of our confidence in overall scores and points to types that could use additional investments in data and analysis to increase our confidence and specify their scores.

Those types that we could confidently score as CR to VU tended to be concentrated among forests and grasslands that have been subjected to extensive landscape fragmentation for over 200 years. These ecosystem types included many forests types of the eastern interior, Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, central Appalachians, prairies of the Great Plains, and shrublands of the intermountain West.

Using Vegetation Classification in Risk Assessment with the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems: Lessons from North America and South Africa

Significance

Ecosystem types, such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands form the life support system for humanity, providing the foundation for all ecosystem services. As a companion to the Red List of Species, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems provides a mechanism for integrating data and knowledge to document trends in the extent and condition of ecosystems. Findings from these assessments feed directly into efforts to prioritize conservation action, including raising citizen awareness, informing policymakers, and directing public and private investments towards sustainable ecosystem protection. By applying Red List criteria to an established classification of ecosystem types, we provide one focus for governments and researchers to further develop robust data sets that are critical to natural resource conservation assessment, planning, management, and monitoring.

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

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina). NatureServe Global Status: Secure (G5). Photo by Matt Jones.

Global Assessments

Drawing on its expertise and experience throughout the Americas, NatureServe has partnered with IUCN and Conservation International to complete global assessments of amphibians and reptiles. These projects benefitted from the expertise of hundreds of herpetologists from across the hemisphere who contributed data on distribution, trends, and threats to more than 5,000 species of amphibians and reptiles. NatureServe convened and facilitated more than a dozen workshops with these professionals to complete Red List assessments. The Global Amphibian Assessment was completed in 2003 whereas the Global Reptile Assessment is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Horned Marsupial Frog (Gastrotheca cornuta). IUCN Red List Status: Endangered (EN). Photo by Brian Gratwicke.

Global Amphibian Assessment

About the Project

More than 500 scientists from over 60 nations contributed to the assessment. Overall, 1,856 (32 percent) of the world’s 5,743 species of frogs, toads, salamanders, and caecilians were considered threatened with extinction. Sufficient data were lacking to accurately assess the status of nearly 1,300 other species, most of which scientists believed are also threatened. Key findings were published in the journal Science on December 3, 2004.

Since 2004, new species have been assessed, and updates have been made for some previously assessed species. Complete data for each species are available in a searchable database.

Goal

In 2004, scientists from Conservation International, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, and NatureServe analyzed the distribution and conservation status of all of the world’s amphibian species known at that time. The goal of this project was to better understand the threats they face and the conservation actions needed to protect and properly manage them.

Significance

The world’s amphibian species are under unprecedented assault and are experiencing tens of thousands of years worth of extinctions in just a century. This project provided the information needed to help to prevent further extinctions and drastic declines.

Learn More

Additional Resources

Related Publications

Partners & Collaborators

 
Western Milksnake (Lampropeltis gentilis). NatureServe Global Status: Secure (G5). Photo by Geoff Hammerson.

Global Reptile Assessment

About the Project

The assessment is a collaboration between the IUCN, NatureServe, and other organizations. NatureServe is playing a critical role in conducting assessment workshops for species occurring in the Western Hemisphere. Workshops with reptile experts to assign Red List status of snales and lizards covered Middle America (2012); Colombia (2013); Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia (2014); the Amazon Basin (2014); Argentina (2014); Chile (2015); Venezuela (2015) and the Caribbean (2015).

Goal

This project is an ongoing assessment of the conservation status of all the world’s nearly 10,000 reptile (lizard, snake, turtle, crocodile, tuatara) species, involving hundreds of scientists from around the globe. The goal of this project is to summarize information on the distribution, abundance, trend, threats, and conservation needs for all of the world’s reptile species. It is the first comprehensive assessment of global reptile conservation status.

Significance

Reptiles are the only remaining group of tetrapods for which a comprehensive, global assessment of species conservation status has not been completed. The Global Reptile Assessment will help the conservation community to identify species and areas most in need of protection, management, or further research.

A recent preliminary assessment of 1,500 randomly-selected reptile species found that about one in five species is threatened with extinction, and another one in five is too poorly known for a conservation assessment to be made. Human-induced habitat loss and harvesting emerged as the predominant threats, and lack of adequate information about many reptile species may be causing an underestimation of extinction risk.