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The Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): A Key Tool!

The Red List of Ecosystems, known as RLE, is an original protocol to assess the risk of collapse of the ecosystems on the planet.

The Red List of Ecosystems is the result of efforts of an independent group of researchers and scientists, who after years of studies have managed to design an assessment protocol of the ecosystems at risk.

In 2014, this methodology was considered and later acknowledged as a global standard for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the main body for the development of technical and analytical foundations to assess the natural capital of the world. The IUCN is responsible of elaborating agreed and ruled measurement systems of the biodiversity and ecosystems, among other duties.

The RLE assesses whether the ecosystems are at imminent risk of collapse due to a change on its distribution or function. The foundation of the RLE is a group of 8 categories and 5 criteria that provide a consistent method to assess the risk of collapse of an ecosystem.

The eight categories are: Collapsed (CO), Critically Endangered (CE), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU), Near-Threatened (NT), Least Concern (LC), Data Deficient (DD), and Not Evaluated (NE).

On the other hand, the 5 criteria are based in rules to allocate ecosystems to a category of risk. Two of these criteria assess the spatial symptoms of ecosystem collapse: decreased distribution (A) and restricted distribution (B). Other two criteria evaluate the functional symptoms: environmental degradation (C) and disruption of the biotic processes and interactions (D). Multiple threats and symptoms can be integrated in a model of the dynamics of the ecosystem in order to have quantitative estimates of the risk of collapse (E).

The method may be applied at different scales, from regional to global, and on the different types of ecosystems: terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine.

Although a major part of the conservation efforts is still focused on the preservation of species, with time, the integration of the natural environment has been unavoidable. The ambitious and refined approach of the RLE is the result of such advance.

Considerable progress has been achieved in the data base, which will allow the consolidation of all the relevant information regarding the completed assessments of the risk of collapse of the ecosystems of the world.

Promoting and fomenting the developed work is part of our main objectives. Therefore, our web site will be renewed in 2016 to go further from the printed editions. With a more current and dynamic image, new editions, and a more functional navigation system, the site has received over 44,000 visits in the short term.

Likewise, the RLE is very active on the social media. During 2016, it had an important progress, which can be evidenced by an increased number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and the recently created Instagram account. It is a virtual community that consolidates itself every day.

During 2016, the third edition of the Third Photography Contest of the Red List of Ecosystems of the IUCN was also organized. We received over 500 photographies of a great variety of ecosystems from around the world. The 58 finalists were exhibited in the World Congress of Nature of the IUCN that took place in Honolulu, Hawaii, with an attendance of over 10,000 people. A second selection of finalists was released by the IUCN through the “NatureFor All” campaign.

Another primary area of the RLE is research. In 2016, three key documents were published for the understanding and practice of the “Categories and Criteria” of the RLE of the IUCN: “An Introduction to the IUCN Red Lis of Ecosystems: The Categories and Criteria for Assessing Risks to Ecosystems” (IUCN 2016); “Guidelines for the Application of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria” (Bland et al. 2016); and “Introduction to the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria. Course Manual”(Murray et al. 2016).

On the other hand, three new scientific publications were prepared to inform the results of the first continental assessments of the RLE of America and to extend the application of Criteria C and E of the list protocol.

One of the proposed goals is to achieve a global assessment of all ecosystems of the world. In order to attain this, it is necessary to professionally train agents interested in the subject. Pursuing these objectives, several trainings were carried out in 2016: in Madagascar, we worked with a group of approximately 20 researchers interested in developing the assessment of local ecosystems; in China, local assessors were trained in the protocol application so to develop the RLE of the country; and training was also done in Hawaii during the World Congress of Nature of the IUCN.

The Next International Congress of Conservation Biology will be held in Cartagena, Colombia in 2017. The RLE team will organize some activities for this event. The detailed program will be soon published.

We have certainly worked this year to continue spreading knowledge about the Red List of Ecosystems. We can then claim that nowadays, the RLE is the main method to assess the risk of collapse of the ecosystems of the world.


Written by:  Mariana Hernandez and Mariana Collet C.

Translator: Carmen Quintero

Provita Dec 31, 2016


IUCN Red List of Ecosystems


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