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The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: A barometer of life

IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and Red List of Ecosystems - two sides of the same coin.

Established in 1964, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (RLTS) has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. Much like a barometer, the RLTS uses a set of precise criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and measures the pressures acting on them, which then helps to both convey the urgency of conservation issues to the public and policymakers, and guide the international community in its efforts to reduce species extinction.

Along with its current conservation status, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species provides data on:

  • Where the species occurs;
  • What threats are affecting it;
  • Which biological characteristics make it vulnerable;
  • What habitats are essential for its survival;
  • What connection it has to human livelihoods;
  • What conservation actions are needed to protect both the species and its ecosystems; and
  • Which species have improved in status, as well as the reasons behind the change.

Each year RLTS assesses and monitors the status of entire groups of species, and, to date, more than 93,500 species have been assessed. These species include not only currently threatened species, but all species ever assessed by RLTS - keep in mind that if a species is not listed, it just means it has not yet been assessed and could, potentially, be endangered. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species’ current goal is to assess at least 160,000 species by 2020, an endeavor made possible thanks to a growing collaboration among expert researchers, the Red List Partners and their respective global networks in particular.

Fostering integrated, interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral approaches are required for IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessments and initiatives to be successful. For instance, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) global standard, which shares structural similarities with RLTS, can be used (prior to initiating species extinction risk assessments within an area) as a baseline to identify the conservation status of ecosystems, thus helping to evaluate pressures on resident species and take measures to prevent what has been referred to as ‘extinction debt’.

Often referred to as “two sides of the same coin” by Jon Paul Rodriguez, current president of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and active participant in the RLE’s development, both (species, and ecosystem) risk assessments combined, promote high levels of adaptiveness and increase society’s ability to respond to species extinction and ecosystem collapse risks. Furthermore, the combination of both methodologies can be used to monitor and measure the effectiveness and efficiency of conservation interventions over time. IUCN’s First Joint Training Workshop on Species and Ecosystems Red Lists, part of a long-term project which aims to complete national Red Lists of Threatened Species and Ecosystems for the Abu Dhabi Emirate within the next couple of years, is an example of how RLTS and RLE can work hand in hand.

As countries awareness regarding the importance of their social, economic and cultural ties with the environment grows, one of IUCN’s goals is that its tools and knowledge products will be progressively embedded in the existing policy mix, in order to ensure the world’s nations get holistic, quality results in the most cost-effective manner possible. In this sense, it is clear that the synergy between the RLTS and other IUCN ’s knowledge products is fundamental to reach global goals and to mitigate the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.



Written by: Ariany García and Clara Gómez

Style and format: Lila García and Clara Gómez

Provita Nov 01, 2018


IUCN Red List of Ecosystems


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