IUCN Introduces New Standard Assessing Species Recovery

Image: Wikimedia Commons

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has set a new conservation standard, called the IUCN green status of species. This standard will not only suggest how close a species is to extinction but also how close it is to recovering its original population size and health. The green status will do this by will putting species into one of nine recovery categories that will use historical population levels to show if a depleted species is nearing recovery.

Why This Matters: Though it is useful to know whether or not a species is near extinction, it doesn’t tell the whole story. This new standard will provide a more complete picture of a given species’ health.

As Molly Grace, a University of Oxford researcher who led the development of the IUCN’s green status, told the Guardian: “Extinction risk, which we’ve used to measure conservation progress for decades, is a very absolute thing. A species is either at risk of extinction or it’s not. Recovery, however, is relative. Every species exists in different abundances and different distributions across the planet, so recovery has to be measured relatively. We’ve created a standardized definition of recovery that captures what it looks like for each individual species and measures progress from zero to 100%.”

Species in Recovery: There’s evidence to suggest that the Earth is experiencing its sixth mass extinction event, but the IUCN green status allows us to see that conservationists have brought some species back from the brink — a paper published last year found that conservation projects had saved up to 48 bird and mammal species from extinction.

One conservation success story of this kind is the California condor. Right now, only 201 condors are old enough to breed in the wild, making them critically endangered. But the first green status assessment finds grounds for optimism — it has found that continued conservation efforts could result in a big rebound over the next century to nearly 75% of its fully recovered state.

The IUCN hopes that the standard can be used to provide optimism that could encourage conservation efforts for critically endangered species, and help chart the way forward. 

Jon Paul Rodríguez, chair of the IUCN species survival commission told the Guardian: “We have come to understand that true success would be to revert the decline to the point where animals, fungi and plants fulfil their ecological functions throughout their range – resulting in species that are not just surviving but thriving. The IUCN green status will help inform conservation plans and steer action to meet national and international goals for 2030 and beyond.”

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