Lacklustre Red List

Probably best known for its red list, in which the status of species are classified from Least Concern to Extinct, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is heavily consulted by researchers in a wide variety of fields. While the list acts to provide a wealth of knowledge to inform conservation efforts worldwide, it is far from comprehensive. Many species are listed as Data Deficient, a category making up 18% of all animal species evaluated, or simply not listed at all. This lack of data is also not distributed evenly through the taxonomic groups, with less than 1% of birds listed as data deficient compared to 22% of amphibians. So, while the IUCN provides an excellent resource for the more charismatic endangered species, those not so gifted in the looks department can receive less attention and therefore enjoy reduced conservation efforts.

Of course, it takes a long time to evaluate and classify each species and some habitats are not particularly hospitable, making data hard to gather. Species with small populations are also inherently hard to find, making them most likely to be listed as Data Deficient, when often their status should be closer to Endangered. This is the case with two species of anole lizards on Utila island in Honduras which have been assessed by local scientists to be at least Vulnerable, if not Critically Endangered, but currently don’t even feature in the huge database of species on the IUCN red list website. These lizards occur in such a small area that any change to their habitat can be devastating, and neglecting to include them in the list means they get less attention from prospective researchers and conservationists.

But how can we increase the number of species assessed without decreasing the quality of the evaluations? There is no easy solution, but not knowing which species are at risk and why is a dangerous situation to be in. In an age of accelerating extinction it is difficult not to recognise the futility of conservation efforts. However, as the climate change strikes prove, there is hope that new generations can drive change for the better.

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