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Biology > The IUCN List of Threatened Species

















The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Preface of the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

The world is facing a global extinction crisis.

Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this I have heard was a comment by then Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, to the opening of a session of one of the Trondheim Conferences on Biodiversity, when she said “The library of life is burning, and we don’t even know the titles of the books”. It remains for me a powerful image of the damage we are doing to the Earth and to our future options as humankind.

Our lives are inextricably linked with the library of life – or biodiversity – and ultimately its protection is essential for our very survival. It is the complex interactions of life’s many forms that provide the basic essentials for human existence such as the air we breathe or the food we eat. We experience the benefits of biodiversity every day, from its role in decomposing waste, pollinating crops, filtering water, or helping to reduce floods or erosion, to mention but a few.

Yet we continue to watch the mounting flames with little understanding of what is being lost, how fast the library of life is disappearing or what impact the loss will have on our lives, or on future generations, or on our planet.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ is one attempt to increase the world’s store of knowledge about our biological resources before they are lost.

Providing information about the status of biodiversity is a critical first step in both highlighting the severity of the problem and encouraging societies to begin to assume accountability for their actions, so that we can maintain at least current levels of biodiversity.

Globally, the heads of governments have made a start at recognizing the crisis. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development they adopted a global biodiversity target to “…significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010…”. The countries of the world are beginning to consider how they will achieve that target.

The conservation community at large is beginning to focus its efforts towards the same end. One of the key challenges all are facing is how to measure progress, how to know whether what is being done is having an impact, and whether that impact is positive or negative with respect to the target. This document begins to offer some answers about how we can monitor trends in biodiversity.

Although analyses of the IUCN Red List have been carried out on a regular basis, the 2004 Global Species Assessment ( GSA ) is the first to be conducted by the Red List Consortium ( IUCN Species Survival Commission, BirdLife International, the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International, and NatureServe ), resulting in broader coverage and new in-depth analyses. It is the first assessment to include the Red List Index that measures trends in extinction risk for all bird and amphibian species. It is the first time that complete assessments of amphibians, cycads and conifers have been included, and it is also the first analysis to use distribution maps for all mammals and amphibians. The new data, new analyses and broader expertise result in this document being one of the most comprehensive assessments of the conservation status of the world’s species ever conducted.

This document addresses biodiversity at the species level. Species are in the middle of the biodiversity continuum from genes to ecosystems. They are readily recognized, and offer an opportunity to measure and communicate changes at other levels of complexity.

While species-based conservation cannot and should not replace efforts to conserve genetic diversity or ecosystem functioning, it is often the most readily available surrogate for conservation of biological diversity.

The data from the IUCN Red List are often used in setting priorities for conservation, but it is wrong to think that they can do so on their own. Setting conservation priorities is a sensitive policy exercise which normally includes the assessment of the conservation status of a species, but also takes into account other factors such as ecological, phylogenetic, historical, or cultural preferences

for some taxa over others, as well as the probability of success of conservation actions, availability of funds or personnel to carry out such actions, and legal frameworks for conservation of threatened taxa.

The IUCN Red List is intended to be policy-relevant, but not policy-prescriptive. That is, the IUCN Red List provides the best available information about the conservation status of the listed species, and the relative risk of extinction, often including information on the drivers of that risk, but it is not

intended to provide specific recommendations on the appropriate policy response to that information.

The existence of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ and the Global Species Assessment depends in large part on the contributions of an extraordinary network of experts brought together through the convening power of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and the partners in the Red List Consortium. It tells a powerful story of the assault of humankind on the biodiversity of this planet, but it also offers a collection of information that can help turn us in a more sustainable direction. I commend it to your attention.

David Brackett


IUCN Species Survival Commission

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Citation - IUCN Red List of Threatened Species ( downloaded on 23 December 2005 )

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