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The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), co-organizer of IMPAC3, published on May 8 a new global standard for the creation, by 2025, of a Red List of Ecosystems under threat.
The IUCN already maintains a Red List of Threatened Species. The new list will supplement it through an ecosystemic approach.
It reflects the fact that conserving biodiversity effectively implies integrating the management of habitats and species, and taking their interactions into account. Marine protected areas typify this approach, of which a chief proponent is the Conference on biological diversity, one of the main institutions supporting IMPAC3.
Ecosystem collapse leads to dramatic consequences. “Not only are hosts of species lost forever, but [it] leads to socio-economic disaster,” said Richard Kingsford, a co-author of the study, published in PLoS ONE (the Public Library of Science’s journal). One extreme instance was the drying up of the Aral Sea in the 1980s and 1990s: fisheries and the shipping industry collapsed, while the increase in respiratory and digestive illnesses is associated with dust storms generated from the dry sea bed.
The new risk assessment method proposed by the IUCN study, led by David Keith (University of New South Wales, Australia), is designed to accommodate a wide range of contexts. It can be used on any scale, from continents or ocean basins down to the local level. And its criteria may be applied across terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.
Understanding and assessing ecosystems is a dauntingly complex task, which is expected to mobilize scores of scientists in years to come. But once the IUCN Red list of Ecosystems is complete, it is expected to become a one-stop shop for economists, rural communities, and local and national authorities, who can use these assessments to manage the finite resources of our planet.