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Red Alert For More Species

New tool for tracking biodiversity loss

The vast majority of the world`s nations are committed to significantly reducing the rate at which biodiversity is being lost by 2010. But without ways of measuring changes in the status of biodiversity, it will be impossible to tell if we are making progress towards that goal. Now a group of authors from BirdLife and other partner organisations in the Red List Consortium, have developed an indicator based on information on the status of all species in a large, representative group of organisms worldwide. It is described in a paper published this week in PLoS Biology.

The Red List Index measures trends in overall extinction risk for complete classes of organisms, starting with the best known major group of organisms, the world`s 10,000 bird species. Birds are found almost everywhere on earth, and bird families occupy a broad range of habitats, yet many individual species have specialised habitat requirements. They are therefore useful indicators of the state of wider biodiversity.

The Red List Index is based on information in the World Conservation Union`s (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. This uses objective, standardised criteria to measure risk of extinction, and assign each species to a category ranging from Least Concern to Critically Endangered, and ultimately in some cases, Extinct. The Red List Index shows trends in overall extinction risk based on movements of species between Red List categories, as a result of genuine improvements or deteriorations in their status.The status of all the world`s birds was assessed for the IUCN Red List four times between 1988 and 2004. The Red List Index has picked up a serious deterioration in the extinction risk of the world`s birds over this period. In particular, it confirms the rapid deterioration in the status of birds in South East Asia as a result of the deforestation of the Indonesian lowlands, and the collapse in albatross and petrel populations because of longline fishing.

The Red List Index for birds shows that biodiversity is continuing to be lost at an increasing rate, and that we are not yet on course to meet the 2010 target, warned the report`s lead author, Dr Stuart Butchart of BirdLife International. The Red List Index methodology is now being applied to other taxonomic groups, with mammals and amphibians next in line.

4th July 2014