Another leap towards the Barometer of Life
Friday 4 November 2011
With now more than 61,900 species reviewed, another big step forward has been made toward developing the IUCN Red List into a true ‘Barometer of Life,’ as called for by leading experts in the magazine Science in 2010.
The latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species illustrates the efforts undertaken by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and its partners, including the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), to expand the number and diversity of species assessed, improving the quality of information in order to obtain a better picture of the state of biodiversity.
"This update offers both good and bad news on the status of many species around the world", says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. "We have the knowledge that conservation works if executed in a timely manner, yet, without strong political will in combination with targeted efforts and resources, the wonders of nature and the services it provides can be lost forever."
ZSL scientists from the Institute of Zoology coordinated projects which assessed several species for the IUCN Red List, including butterflies and freshwater molluscs.
Despite the action of conservation programmes, 25% of mammals are at risk of extinction. For example, the reassessments of several Rhinoceros species show that the subspecies of the Black Rhino in western Africa, the Western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) has officially been declared Extinct.
Amphibians form a vital role in ecosystems, are indicators of environmental health, and are literally ‘hopping pharmacies’ being used in the search for new medicines. As one of the most threatened groups, amphibians are closely monitored by IUCN and 26 recently discovered Amphibians have been added to the IUCN Red List.
However, several conservation successes have already been achieved including the Southern White Rhino subspecies (Ceratotherium simum simum), which has increased from a population of less than 100 at the end of the 19th century, to an estimated wild population of over 20,000. The Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus) is another success story, improving its status from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Originally, it was listed as Extinct in the Wild in 1996, but thanks to a captive breeding programme and a successful reintroduction programme , the population is now estimated at more than 300.
"It is clear to me that society now has the capability to reverse species declines", says Prof Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation Programmes at ZSL. "Fundamentally, it is our values that need to change if we are to avert the looming extinction crisis."
Dr Monika Bohm from ZSL added: "The Red List provides important information on the status of a large variety of the world’s wildlife, from molluscs to conifers, and butterflies to mountain gorillas. Monitoring a wide variety of species is vital to understand our dependence on the natural world and the importance of protecting all forms of life, not just for the benefit of species themselves but also for the benefit of humanity."
Wild Science blog
Scientists from ZSL contributed assessments for several species of freshwater mollusc in this IUCN Red List update which are notoriously difficult to study. Find out how ZSL is helping to establish a clearer global picture of how freshwater molluscs and freshwater systems in general are faring behing the scenes on the Wild Science blog.
(c) Andreas Werth