IUCN Red List - Celebrating 50 years as a "Barometer of Life"

01 April 2014 | Article

The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. Far from being just a long list of names of species and threat categories, it includes a rich compendium of information that can be used in protecting species from extinction. As such, it is the single most valuable and trusted resource for biodiversity conservation. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Red List, which continues to be a catalyst for conservation action and invaluable as a "Barometer of Life" on Earth.

In the recent past, Asia Pacific (one of the world's most biologically, culturally and economically diverse regions) recorded the world's highest number of threatened species. In the last decade alone, more than 2,500 Asian species were recorded in the IUCN Red List as critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable.

IUCN is helping governments and civil society in Asia by providing technical support to build their capacity to correctly identify threatened species and better inform their conservation efforts. In 2013, IUCN trained 26 Bhutanese from a wide range of organizations to use the IUCN Red List criteria and categories.  In 2014 and 2015, this is being followed up by a project to assess the status of Bhutan’s endemic plants. It is hoped that this will ultimately lead to the publication of a National Red List of Bhutan’s Endemic Flora.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, IUCN is providing technical assistance in updating the National Red List of 7 groups of wildlife (Mammal, Reptile, Amphibians, Aves, Freshwater Fish, Crustacean and Butterfly). Approximately 1700 species in all will be studied and assessed in accordance with the IUCN criteria and categories.

In 2007, IUCN's collaboration with the Sri Lankan government resulted in the production of a national Red List using the IUCN global Red List criteria. IUCN also provided support to establish a Red Listing Unit within the government of Sri Lanka to institutionalize the Red Listing process. 

Recent scientific studies done in the Asia region have helped shed new light on the status and distribution of biodiversity and addressed existing knowledge gaps on poorly documented species and regions. In the Indo-Burma 'hotspot', IUCN and partners have assessed 2,515 freshwater species, 13% of which were assessed as globally threatened mainly due to pollution and large-scale development of hydropower.

A study done in India's Western Ghats, one of the world's most heavily populated biodiversity hotspots revealed that 50% of the fish populations were threatened by urban and domestic pollution, hinting at the need for better implementation and enforcement of state legislation.

The IUCN Red List has grown in size and complexity over the past 50 years. However, it is still very small compared to the immense diversity of species on this planet. The current version of the list accounts for 71,576 species, around 3% of world described species estimated to range from 5 to30 million. IUCN aims to increase this number to at least 160,000 by 2020.

The 50th anniversary of the IUCN Red List is being celebrated throughout 2014 across Asia and all over the world. Some of the upcoming highlights are