List of species under threat 'flawed'

December 19, 2003

The red list that identifies endangered species itself risks extinction unless the scientific methodology that underpins it is radically changed, a leading conservation biologist has warned.

Nicholas Mrosovsky, the British emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Toronto, Canada, argues in a report published last week that the credibility of system operated by IUCN, The World Conservation, is at stake.

The red list is compiled by an array of volunteer expert panels comparing the latest scientific data to the IUCN's criteria.

It is used by scientists, campaigning groups and governments as the bedrock of many initiatives and regulations to protect plants and animals from extinction.

But Professor Mrosovsky, a former chairman of the IUCN expert panel on marine turtles, said: "It should be thoroughly overhauled or replaced by a new system, perhaps operated by a different organisation."

He argues that there is inconsistency in the approach to different groups of organisms, often insufficient scientific documentation to justify particular categorisations and a lack of transparency about the process.

Some species, he concludes, should be removed from the list as the available evidence suggested that they were not on the brink of oblivion, as might be surmised from their category.

In his report, Predicting Extinction: Fundamental Flaws in IUCN's Red List System , Professor Mrosovsky focuses much of his analysis on marine turtles.

He points out that the hawksbill had been listed as critically endangered - a definition that means the species faces "an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future" - even though the expert group responsible for making the recommendation had stated that "the species is not expected to become extinct in the foreseeable future".

Brendan Godley, Natural Environment Research Council fellow at the University of Exeter and a marine turtle specialist, acknowledged many of the general criticisms aimed at the red list by Professor Mrosovsky.

The full report is at

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