Established in 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species.
The IUCN Red List is a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity. Far more than a list of species and their status, it is a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. It provides information about range, population size, habitat and ecology, use and/or trade, threats, and conservation actions that will help inform necessary conservation decisions.
The IUCN Red List is used by government agencies, wildlife departments, conservation-related non-governmental organisations (NGOs), natural resource planners, educational organisations, students, and the business community. The Red List process has become a massive enterprise involving the IUCN Biodiversity Assessment and Knowledge Team staff, partner organisations and experts in the IUCN Species Survival Commission and partner networks who compile the species information to make The IUCN Red List the indispensable product it is today.
To date, many species groups including mammals, amphibians, birds, reef building corals and conifers have been comprehensively assessed. As well as assessing newly recognized species, the IUCN Red List also re-assesses the status of some existing species, sometimes with positive stories to tell. For example, good news such as the downlisting (i.e. improvement) of a number of species on the IUCN Red List categories scale, due to conservation efforts. The bad news, however, is that biodiversity is declining. Currently, there are more than 157,100 species on The IUCN Red List, with more than 44,000 species threatened with extinction, including 41% of amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 36% of reef building corals, 34% of conifers, 26% of mammals and 12% of birds.
Despite the high proportions of threatened species, we are working to reverse, or at least halt, the decline in biodiversity. Increased assessments will help to build The IUCN Red List into a more complete ‘Barometer of Life’. To do this, we need to increase the number of species assessed to at least 160,000. This will improve the global taxonomic coverage and thus provide a stronger base to enable better conservation and policy decisions. The IUCN Red List is crucial not only for helping to identify those species in need of targeted recovery efforts, but also for focusing the conservation agenda by identifying the key sites and habitats that need to be protected. Ultimately, The IUCN Red List helps to guide and inform future conservation and funding priorities.