The European Red List grows: bees and medicinal plants to be assessed by IUCN

25 November 2011 | News story

In the next three years, IUCN will assess the status of two species groups which are fundamental to our well-being: pollinators and medicinal plants. These species play an essential role in delivering key ecosystem services and supporting livelihoods.

Bees are the major pollinators of wild plants and mass-flowering crops in terrestrial ecosystems and it is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees. The importance of bees to human survival and the maintenance of much of terrestrial biodiversity can only increase over the coming years, given the projections for human population growth and the corresponding increasing conversion of landscapes to agricultural use. Sadly there is strong evidence that they are in decline mainly due to human-related causes so their decrease or loss may have a significant economic impact in Europe.

Plants have been used as sources of medicine from ancient times to the present day by all cultures. The use of traditional medicine is widespread in many countries, and the use of complementary and alternative medicine has increased substantially over the last few decades. However, many once abundant medicinal plant populations are depleted and thousands of species are likely threatened worldwide.

IUCN, supported by the European Commission, will develop the European Red List of pollinators and medicinal plants. Assessing these species groups will contribute to increase the coverage of invertebrates and plants in the European Red List and will add an interesting dimension through the linking of the status of these species to the state of key ecosystem services. We need to know more about the actual status of such important species as their decline could have consequences to our economies and life.