04 April 2009

In defence of the Red List

"While we at IUCN welcome constructive criticism, we are exasperated by critics who fail to recognise the steady improvements IUCN has been making in trying to present an objective picture of the conservation status of species worldwide, as well as helping to ensure that biodiversity loss is recognised as a crucial issue at the highest political levels." commented IUCN leaders on recent criticisms that the Red List is unscientific and frequently wrong.

They highlight that "it is extremely difficult to raise awareness among decision-makers about the crucial importance of giving attention to all life forms on our planet. Everybody in the conservation movement wants biodiversity to receive the same level of attention as climate change, but this is no easy task. The Red List, thanks to its objectivity and high standards, is one of the very few tools that could allow this to happen."

They add that "the Red List helps to answer many important questions. What is the overall status of biodiversity and how is it changing over time? What is the rate at which biodiversity is being lost? Where is biodiversity being lost most rapidly? What are the main drivers of the loss of biodiversity? What is the effectiveness and impact of conservation activities?"

They also address the criticism is that the list is excessively cautious because it assigns too many species to a category labelled "data deficient". IUCN says that "rather than rushing to a judgement based on poor data, we highlight those species that need more research before an objective decision can be made."

They also argue against faulting the Red List for assigning extinction risk based on how fast a species is declining, rather than on absolute numbers. While this can lead to species such as the green turtle being listed as endangered when there are still more than 2 million individuals, criticising it on these grounds is misleading. Decline is a key indicator of extinction risk. As many conservation experts can attest, there are numerous instances of formerly abundant species declining to extremely low levels very rapidly - think of American bison and passenger pigeons in the past and, more recently, Asian vultures and saiga antelope.

Full article on the wildsingapore news blog.

The Red List in Singapore

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