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Impor­tance of new IUCN’s Red List of Ecosys­tems confirmed

pub­lished 09 May 2013 | mod­i­fied 05 April 2014

Kukenan TepuyA new global stan­dard in assess­ing envi­ron­men­tal risk, the IUCN Red List of Ecosys­tems, has been tri­alled on 20 ecosys­tems span­ning six con­ti­nents and three oceans.

“By know­ing which ecosys­tems are track­ing well and which ones are in trou­ble, gov­ern­ments, indus­tries and local com­mu­ni­ties will be well-​positioned to make smart invest­ment deci­sions for sus­tain­able envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment,” says David Keith, leader of the study, pub­lished on in the jour­nal PlOS ONE.

For the first time, we have a risk assess­ment method that is applic­a­ble world­wide across ter­res­trial, fresh­wa­ter and marine ecosystems
Emily Nichol­son, co-​author, Uni­ver­sity of Melbourne »

The devel­op­ment of the new risk assess­ment method is seen as a major sci­en­tific break­through for con­sis­tent envi­ron­men­tal report­ing. Mod­elled on the influ­en­tial IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™, the IUCN Red List of Ecosys­tems will iden­tify if an ecosys­tem is vul­ner­a­ble, endan­gered, or crit­i­cally endangered.

Our goal is to assess all the ecosys­tems of the world by 2025 and IUCN will con­tinue to do so for large geo­graph­i­cal areas, such as con­ti­nents and ocean basins. But our data­base is designed to also accom­mo­date stud­ies done at the level of a munic­i­pal­ity, a coun­try, or by ecosys­tem type, as illus­trated in the case stud­ies in the PLOS ONE arti­cle,” says Jon Paul Rodríguez, leader of the IUCN Red List of Ecosys­tems project.

Aral Sea1989-2008The remote moun­tain ecosys­tems of the Venezue­lan Tepui are among those at least risk of col­lapse, accord­ing to the study. At the other extreme is the Aral Sea of cen­tral Asia, which col­lapsed dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s.

The lessons from the Aral Sea assess­ment are sober­ing” says Richard Kings­ford, Direc­tor of the Wet­lands Cen­tre and co-​author of the study. “Not only were a host of species lost for­ever, but the ecosys­tem col­lapse led to socio-​economic dis­as­ter.” The Aral Sea fish­eries and ship­ping indus­try col­lapsed, while increas­ing res­pi­ra­tory and diges­tive ill­nesses and declin­ing life expectancy are asso­ci­ated with dust storms gen­er­ated from the dry sea bed.

Eight Aus­tralian ecosys­tems assessed in the trial fall between these extremes. Some of these ecosys­tems are already in rapid decline, while for oth­ers the threats are in the early stages and could more eas­ily be addressed by pol­icy and man­age­ment deci­sions to main­tain ecosys­tem diver­sity and functions.

“Sound envi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment is imper­a­tive to main­tain func­tional ecosys­tems, their bio­log­i­cal diver­sity and the ecosys­tem ser­vices upon which our economies and social well­be­ing depends,” says Edmund Bar­row, Head of IUCN’s Ecosys­tem Man­age­ment Pro­gramme. “This is espe­cially cru­cial for the devel­op­ing world.”

The IUCN Red List of Ecosys­tems is expected to become a one-​stop shop for econ­o­mists, rural com­mu­ni­ties, local and national author­i­ties, who can use these assess­ments to bet­ter man­age the finite resources of our planet.

IUCN is seek­ing sup­port to com­plete the global assess­ment of con­ser­va­tion sta­tus of the world’s ter­res­trial, fresh­wa­ter, marine and sub­ter­ranean ecosys­tems before 2025.

(Source: IUCN news release, 08.05.2013; Wikipedia)

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