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The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. Four years assessing the risk of the world's ecosystems

On May 21, 2014, the IUCN formally approved the categories and criteria for identifying and evaluating the risk of ecosystems. This year the Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) celebrates its 4th Anniversary.

Ten years ago, a project that promoted the creation of a global framework to assess the risk of collapse of the world's ecosystems was launched. But it was not until May 21, 2014, during the 83rd session of the Council of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), that the Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria (RLE) were formally adopted as the world standard for the identification of threatened ecosystems. The work developed by the RLE team in terms of research, the creation of capacities and communication was recognized four years later during the 94th session of the IUCN Council for the high impact that this initiative has had globally, despite the short time elapsed.

 This success has been possible thanks to the strong alliances established between IUCN’s Ecosystem Management Programme and the Commission for Ecosystem Management with partner organizations such as Provita, the University of New South Wales, the University of Deakin and EcoHealth Alliance, which have led and promoted different elements of the RLE globally in collaboration with a large number of regional and local partners. The financial support of allies such as the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, the MAVA Foundation and the Australian Research Council has been equally important. The consolidation of this network of collaborators has allowed the RLE initiative to reach its current quality standards as well as to continue to promote, through different projects, the assessment, conservation and appropriate management of ecosystems, as well as the development of new scientific bases and tools that facilitate these activities.

Among the main achievements of these 4 years, the publication in 2017 of the Guidelines for the application of the IUCN Red List Ecosystems (RLE) categories and criteria (version 1.1) stands out.  This document, which derives from the collaborative work of numerous experts from all over the world, aims to guide assessors in the process of applying the assessment methodology. There are 34 assessments to date that have already been completed worldwide following these categories and criteria. Other key documents have been generated during this time, including the publications associated to these assessments, which are summarized in more than 49 scientific articles related to the RLE in renowned journals.

 In order to develop capacities to facilitate and extend the boundaries of implementation of the RLE protocol at different scales and to discuss the results of the assessments that have been already carried out; more than 100 events have been organized in 30 countries and 53 cities around the world. In addition, four new tools and a presentation package designed for basic training in ecosystem risk assessments have been made available to the public, in order to assist potential assessors in the understanding of the RLE protocol and the application of its methods. All this with the common objective of promoting and improving the state of knowledge about the world's ecosystems and, above all, provide useful information for conservation decision-making.

Furthermore, since 2016 we have been working together with specialists from different commissions of the IUCN, advisors, and researchers, in the development of a reference global typology that will serve as a framework for global, national and local assessments. Moreover, the team continues working on developing an RLE database to compile all available information on targeted assessments (focused on selected ecosystems) and systematic assessments (focused on regions or countries) that are complete or in progress, thus offering updated quantitative information to develop indicators of state and trend of natural resources anywhere in the world.

One of the goals proposed since the beginning of the RLE has been its integration with other IUCN knowledge products, especially targeting the interaction between the Red Lists of Species and Ecosystems, in order to obtain better indicators of the state of biodiversity. This integration is currently being explored and is expected to be an important part of our work in the future.

The implementation of criteria to identify the ecosystems in greatest danger of collapse and loss of biodiversity becomes more relevant at this time when we face global challenges such as climate change and increased risk of disasters. Year after year, the RLE continues to advance as an indicator of the state of biotic and abiotic diversity at national, regional and global levels, providing new tools for the improved management of ecosystems in order to reduce risks and improve resilience.


Written by: Mariana Hernández, Lila García, Clara Gómez and Ariany García

Style and Format: Ariany García and Irene Zager

Translation: Claudia Paredes

Provita May 22, 2018


IUCN Red List of Ecosystems


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