IUCN on extinction crisis

IUCN press release:

[quote]Life on Earth is under serious threat, despite the commitment by world leaders to reverse the trend, according to a detailed analysis of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

The IUCN analysis, which is published every four years, comes just before the deadline governments set themselves to evaluate how successful they were in achieving the 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss. The IUCN report, Wildlife in a Changing World, shows the 2010 target will not be met.

“When governments take action to reduce biodiversity loss there are some conservation successes, but we are still a long way from reversing the trend,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Head of IUCN’s Species Programme and senior editor of the publication. “It’s time to recognize that nature is the largest company on Earth working for the benefit of 100 percent of humankind – and it’s doing it for free. Governments should put as much effort, if not more, into saving nature as they do into saving economic and financial sectors.”

The report analyses 44,838 species on the IUCN Red List and presents results by groups of species, geographical regions, and different habitats, such as marine, freshwater and terrestrial.

It shows 869 species are Extinct or Extinct the Wild and this figure rises to 1,159 if the 290 Critically Endangered species tagged as Possibly Extinct are included. Overall, a minimum of 16,928 species are threatened with extinction. Considering that only 2.7 percent of the 1.8 million described species have been analyzed, this number is a gross underestimate, but it does provide a useful snapshot of what is happening to all forms of life on Earth.

An increased number of freshwater species have now been assessed, giving a better picture of the dire situation they face. In Europe, for example, 38 percent of all fishes are threatened and 28 percent in Eastern Africa. The high degree of connectivity in freshwater systems, allowing pollution or invasive species to spread rapidly, and the development of water resources with scant regard for the species that live in them, are behind the high level of threat.

In the oceans, the picture is similarly bleak. The report shows that a broad range of marine species are experiencing potentially irreversible loss due to over-fishing, climate change, invasive species, coastal development and pollution. At least 17 percent of the 1,045 shark and ray species, 12.4 percent of groupers and six of the seven marine turtle species are threatened with extinction. Most noticeably, 27 percent of the 845 species of reef building corals are threatened, 20 percent are Near Threatened and there is not enough data for 17 percent to be assessed. Marine birds are much more threatened that terrestrial ones with 27.5 percent in danger of extinction, compared with 11.8 percent of terrestrial birds.

“Think of fisheries without fishes, logging without trees, tourism without coral reefs or other wildlife, crops without pollinators,” says Vié. “Imagine the damage to our economies and societies if they were lost. All the plants and animals that make up Earth’s amazing wildlife have a specific role and contribute to essentials like food, medicine, oxygen, pure water, crop pollination, carbon storage and soil fertilization. Economies are utterly dependent on species diversity. We need them all, in large numbers. We quite literally cannot afford to lose them.”

The report shows nearly one third of amphibians, more than one in eight birds and nearly a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction. For some plant groups, such as conifers and cycads, the situation is even more serious, with 28 percent and 52 percent threatened respectively. For all these groups, habitat destruction, through agriculture, logging and development, is the main threat and occurs worldwide.

In the case of amphibians, the fungal disease chytridiomycosis is seriously affecting an increasing number of species, complicating conservation efforts. For birds, the highest number of threatened species is found in Brazil and Indonesia, but the highest proportion of threatened or extinct birds is found on oceanic islands. Invasive species and hunting are the main threats. For mammals, unsustainable hunting is the greatest threat after habitat loss. This is having a major impact in Asia, where deforestation is also occurring at a very rapid rate.

"The report makes for depressing reading,” says Craig Hilton Taylor, Manager of the IUCN Red List Unit and co-editor. “It tells us that the extinction crisis is as bad, or even worse, than we believed. But it also shows the trends these species are following and is therefore an essential part of decision-making processes. In the run-up to 2010, the global community should use this report wisely to address the situation.”

Climate change is not currently the main threat to wildlife, but this may soon change, according to the report. After examining the biological characteristics of 17,000 species of birds, amphibians and reef building corals, the report found that a significant proportion of species that are currently not threatened with extinction are susceptible to climate change. This includes 30 percent of non-threatened birds, 51 percent of non-threatened corals and 41 percent of non-threatened amphibians, which all have traits that make them susceptible to climate change.

Red List Indices make it possible to track trends of extinction risk in groups of species. New indices have been calculated and provide some interesting results. Birds, mammals, amphibians and corals all show a continuing deterioration, with a particularly rapid decline for corals. Red List Indices have also been calculated for amphibian, mammal and bird species used for food and medicine. The results show that bird and mammal species used for food and medicine are much more threatened. The diminishing availability of these resources has an impact on the health and well-being of the people who depend on them directly.

“The IUCN Red List provides a window on many of the major global issues of our day, including climate change, loss of freshwater ecosystems and over-fishing,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and co-editor. “Unless we address the fundamental causes of unsustainability on our planet, the lofty of goals of governments to reduce extinction rates will count for nothing.”

To read the full report, Wildlife in a Changing World – an analysis of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, please click here: http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/RL-2009-001.pdf  [/quote]

Wildlife crisis worse than economic crisis – IUCN



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Another year, another grim press release from IUCN:

The most comprehensive assessment of the world’s vertebrates confirms an extinction crisis with one-fifth of species threatened. However, the situation would be worse were it not for current global conservation efforts, according to a study launched today at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD, in Nagoya, Japan.

 The study, to be published in the international journal Science, used data for 25,000 species from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, to investigate the status of the world’s vertebrates (mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes) and how this status has changed over time. The results show that, on average, 50 species of mammal, bird and amphibian move closer to extinction each year due to the impacts of agricultural expansion, logging, over-exploitation and invasive alien species.

“The ‘backbone’ of biodiversity is being eroded,” says the emminent American ecologist and writer Professor Edward O. Wilson, at Harvard University. “One small step up the Red List is one giant leap forward towards extinction. This is just a small window on the global losses currently taking place.”

Southeast Asia has experienced the most dramatic recent losses, largely driven by the planting of export crops like oil palm, commercial hardwood timber operations, agricultural conversion to rice paddies and unsustainable hunting. Parts of Central America, the tropical Andes of South America, and even Australia, have also all experienced marked losses, in particular due to the impact of the deadly chytrid fungus on amphibians.

Whilst the study confirms previous reports of continued losses in biodiversity, it is the first to present clear evidence of the positive impact of conservation efforts around the globe. Results show that the status of biodiversity would have declined by nearly 20 percent if conservation action had not been taken.

“History has shown us that conservation can achieve the impossible, as anyone who knows the story of the White Rhinoceros in southern Africa is aware,” says Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and an author on the study. “But this is the first time we can demonstrate the aggregated positive impact of these successes on the state of the environment.”

The study highlights 64 mammal, bird and amphibian species that have improved in status due to successful conservation action. This includes three species that were extinct in the wild and have since been re-introduced back to nature: the California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus, and the Black-footed Ferret, Mustela nigripes, in the United States, and Przewalski’s Horse, Equus ferus, in Mongolia.

Conservation efforts have been particularly successful at combatting invasive alien species on islands. The global population of the Seychelles Magpie-robin, Copsychus sechellarum, increased from fewer than 15 birds in 1965 to 180 in 2006 through control of introduced predators, like the Brown Rat, Rattus norvegicus, and captive-breeding and re-introduction programmes. On Mauritius, six bird species have undergone recoveries in status, including the Mauritius Kestrel, Falco punctatus, whose population has increased from just four birds in 1974 to nearly 1,000.

In South America, protected areas and a combination of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Vicuña Convention helped spark the recovery of the Vicuña Vicugna vicugna. Similarly, legislation enacted to ban commercial whaling has seen the Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, move from Vulnerable to Least Concern. Unfortunately, very few amphibians have yet shown signs of recovery, but international efforts are escalating, including a programme to reintroduce the Kihansi Spray Toad, Nectophrynoides asperginis, back into the wild in Tanzania.

The authors caution that their study represents only a minimum estimate of the true impact of conservation, highlighting that some nine percent of threatened species have increasing populations. Their results show that conservation works, given resources and commitment. They also show that global responses will need to be substantially scaled up, because the current level of conservation action is outweighed by the magnitude of threat. In this light, policy-makers at the CBD meeting in Nagoya have been calling for a very significant increase in resources – from extremely low current levels - to make the objectives of the Convention achievable.

“This is clear evidence for why we absolutely must emerge from Nagoya with a strategic plan of action to direct our efforts for biodiversity in the coming decade,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN. “It is a clarion call for all of us – governments, businesses, citizens – to mobilize resources and drive the action required. Conservation does work but it needs our support, and it needs it fast!”

The paper highlights that the percentage of species threatened among vertebrates ranges from 13 percent of birds to 41 percent of amphibians. Although the study focused on vertebrates, it also reports on the levels of threat among several other groups assessed for the IUCN Red List, including 14 percent of seagrasses, 32 percent of freshwater crayfish and 33 percent of reef-building corals.

The level of threat among cycads is extremely critical, with 63 percent threatened with extinction. Cycads, the most ancient group of seed plants alive today, are subject to extremely high levels of illegal harvesting and trade, and are in danger of going the same way as the dinosaurs.Learn more

Recently, a United Nations-sponsored study called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) calculated the cost of losing nature at $2-5 trillion per year, predominantly in poorer parts of the world. A recent study found one-fifth of more than 5,000 freshwater species in Africa are threatened, putting the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on these vital resources at risk.

Failure to meet the internationally agreed 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss does not mean that conservation efforts have been in vain, as this study demonstrates. However, the erosion of biodiversity has reached such dangerous levels that we cannot afford to fail again. Ambitious targets are needed for 2020, and to meet them will require urgent and concerted action on a greatly expanded scale. It is time for the world’s Governments, meeting in Nagoya, to rise effectively to this global challenge.

Quotes from Red List Partner organizations

“We know what has to be done to save individual species from extinction,” says Alison Stattersfield, BirdLife’s Head of Science and one of the authors on the paper. “Through BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme we are taking effective and cost-effective action for the world’s Critically Endangered birds. But much more effort is needed, through NGOs, governments, businesses and committed individuals working together, to stop the slide towards extinction and start to address the root causes of biodiversity loss.”

“This study testifies to the transformative power of conservation,” says Dr Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International. “It shows that if we can emerge from Nagoya with a clear conservation strategy and the resources to secure the future of the world’s plants, we can radically improve the status of this group of species that has such tremendous cultural and economic importance for society.”

“The critical point from our analysis is the role that conservation plays in slowing species losses. That means we can do something about this global problem by taking concerted action at local national and regional scales,” says Dr Andrew A. Rosenberg, Senior Vice President for Science and Knowledge at Conservation International and an author on the paper.


“This landmark analysis proves that, when guided by detailed data and supported by adequate financing, conservation of threatened species and their habitats works”, says Mary Klein, President and CEO of Natureserve. “We know what can and must be done to safeguard biodiversity – we just need to do much more of it.”

“A recent study on plants coordinated by Kew and involving several IUCN partners (http://www.kew.org/news/one-fifth-of-plants-under-threat-of-extinction.htm), suggested that just over one-fifth of all plant species are threatened, that most threatened plant species are found in the tropics and that the most threatening process is man-induced habitat loss,” says Professor Stephen Hopper, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “Conifers, with a world-wide presence in virtually all types of forest, face extinction for at least 29 percent of species. Many are ‘keystone’ species, without which their ecosystem could collapse, taking other species with them to extinction. Unsustainable logging and deforestation are the main causes. Clearly it is important to continue and increase conservation actions across the globe.”

“The conservation of biodiversity is a daunting challenge that requires a robust base of scientific information and theoretical framework. The Red List Partnership, of which our university is member, is a unique combination of centres of excellence sharing the responsibility of advancing the science of biodiversity assessment and maintaining updated information on the trends of biodiversity status,” says Dr Luigi Boitani of Sapienza University of Rome and an author on the study. “Expanding the coverage of species and monitoring their status through time is a responsibility we cannot postpone anymore.”

“The results of this study suggest that we must adopt a broader and more comprehensive approach to conservation, one that includes not only protected areas but also better strategies to work with rural communities and traditional people to conserve biodiversity in places where people use the land for their support,” says Professor Thomas Lacher, Jr. at Texas A&M University and an author on the paper. “We cannnot afford piecemeal approaches.”

“This paper is proof that conservation is working. Now we have to scale-up our efforts to match the unprecedented threats faced by the natural world,” says Professor Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation Programmes at the Zoological Society of London and an author on the paper.

"While the outlook for many species is still grim, this report is a testament to the real and valuable impact conservation work can have," says Harriet Nimmo, Chief Executive of Wildscreen, who are working with IUCN to help raise the public profile of the world's threatened species. "We need to urgently address our disconnection from the natural world and will only succeed in rescuing species from the brink of extinction if we successfully communicate their plight, significance, value and importance."

Nature's backbone at risk