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Conserv Biol. 2008 Dec;22(6):1424-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01044.x. Epub 2008 Sep 25.

Quantification of extinction risk: IUCN's system for classifying threatened species.

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1
Centre for Population Biology and Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park, Ascot SL5 7PY, United Kingdom. g.mace@imperial.ac.uk

Abstract

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species was increasingly used during the 1980s to assess the conservation status of species for policy and planning purposes. This use stimulated the development of a new set of quantitative criteria for listing species in the categories of threat: critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable. These criteria, which were intended to be applicable to all species except microorganisms, were part of a broader system for classifying threatened species and were fully implemented by IUCN in 2000. The system and the criteria have been widely used by conservation practitioners and scientists and now underpin one indicator being used to assess the Convention on Biological Diversity 2010 biodiversity target. We describe the process and the technical background to the IUCN Red List system. The criteria refer to fundamental biological processes underlying population decline and extinction. But given major differences between species, the threatening processes affecting them, and the paucity of knowledge relating to most species, the IUCN system had to be both broad and flexible to be applicable to the majority of described species. The system was designed to measure the symptoms of extinction risk, and uses 5 independent criteria relating to aspects of population loss and decline of range size. A species is assigned to a threat category if it meets the quantitative threshold for at least one criterion. The criteria and the accompanying rules and guidelines used by IUCN are intended to increase the consistency, transparency, and validity of its categorization system, but it necessitates some compromises that affect the applicability of the system and the species lists that result. In particular, choices were made over the assessment of uncertainty, poorly known species, depleted species, population decline, restricted ranges, and rarity; all of these affect the way red lists should be viewed and used. Processes related to priority setting and the development of national red lists need to take account of some assumptions in the formulation of the criteria.

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