New study claims that the IUCN Red List is inaccurate

A controversial new paper calls the IUCN Red List into question.

The red-capped manakin – found in the tropical and subtropical lowland forests of Central and South America – is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. © epantha/Getty

The paper, published in Science Advances, reassessed the level of risk faced by certain species on the Red List using technology such as satellite and aerial imaging, and their conclusions lead them to question not only the IUCN’s method, but also the validity of where certain species fall on the List.

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The Red List, which classifies species according to their risk of extinction, is highly regarded and helps to inform conservation decisions across the world.

But the paper argues that the IUCN’s process of categorisation is out-dated, and leaves plenty of room for improvement. Specifically, it highlights the need for incorporating geospatial data, which it argues can substantially increase the number of species that need to be reclassified as being at an increased category of risk.

The team behind the study was comprised mainly of ornithologists, and consequently they chose to examine bird species for their research into IUCN’s process, which does not currently incorporate spatial technologies applied by researchers in the study.

Analysing 586 species of endemic and threatened forest birds from some of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened locations – Atlantic Forest, Brazil; Central America; Western Andes, Colombia; Madagascar; Sumatra; and Southeast Asia – the team took into consideration factors such as elevation and forest cover in relation to the range of the species examined.

According to the Red List, 18 per cent of the species the researchers looked at are deemed threatened, 15 as critically endangered, 29 endangered, and 64 vulnerable.

But the study’s results painted a different picture: it found that around 210 bird species belong in a higher threat category than the current Red List placement, including 189 species that are not currently deemed to be threatened.

Elevation and forest cover — something they argue is not considered by the IUCN’s method — in some cases greatly reduced the ranges of the species they analysed.

The study concludes that it is crucial to use up-to-date geospatial data to give a more accurate picture of species range and habitat, including new areas of deforestation, in order to determine their vulnerability to extinction.

Read the full paper on Science Advances.


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Main image: The red-capped manakin – found in the tropical and subtropical lowland forests of Central and South America – is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. © Getty