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New “Red List” Declares One-Fifth of Vertebrate Species in Danger

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We know things are bad for biodiversity. But just how bad across the board? The scientists at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as they will from time to time, just updated their Red List—an accounting of how much trouble vertebrate species face. According to them, one in five around the world is threatened, and the numbers are worse for groups like sharks and amphibians.

The survey results, which are coming out in the journal Science, are based on research conducted in nearly 40 countries. The 174 scientists studied about 25,000 species to estimate the condition of the approximately 56,000 species on the Red List. From IUCN's release:

"The 'backbone' of biodiversity is being eroded,"says the emminent American ecologist and writer Professor Edward O. Wilson, at Harvard University. "One small step up the Red List is one giant leap forward towards extinction. This is just a small window on the global losses currently taking place."

The report rattles off a litany of depressing statistics: Birds are threatened to the tune of 13 percent, while for amphibians the number is 41 percent. Of the 55,926 species on the Red List this year, 3,565 are critically endangered, 5,256 are endangered, and another 9,530 are vulnerable. So those three categories make up about one third of the total. But it's not completely bad news.

Buried in the litany of near-extinctions, the Science authors found evidence that what conservation work that has been done over the past few decades really has made a difference. More than 12% of the world's land surface has some degree of protection, and that protection begins to add up. Without that conservation work—without the parks and the reserves, the Endangered Species Act, the World Wildlife Fund—the status of biodiversity would have declined another 20%. [TIME]

There were anecdotal bits of good news, too.

It highlighted 64 mammal, bird and amphibian species that have improved in status, including three species that were extinct in the wild and have been re-introduced: the California Condor, the black-footed ferret in the United States, and Przewalski's horse in Mongolia. [ABC News]

This report comes out in the middle of the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Japan, in which nations are trying to agree on conservation targets to hit for 2020.

Environmental groups are pushing for a goal of protecting 25 percent of all land on Earth and 15 percent of the sea by 2020. At the moment, roughly 14 percent of terrestrial areas and less than 1 percent of the ocean enjoy some degree of environmental safeguards. [Washington Post]


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