Images of uncommonly-considered rare and endangered species throughout. Photo via Wikipedia
Scientists to Create "a Barometer of Life"
According to scientists, the currently existing schemes that determine which species are at risk fall far short of what's needed. They argue in a recent study published in the journal Science that a more accurate "barometer of life" is needed to help educate the world on how many species are truly threatened, and that right now, invertebrates, fungi, marine, and arid land species are highly overlooked. They say that as of now, there are only 48,000 species being assessed for risk--when in reality, that number should be closer to 160,000. Yes, that proposal includes the frightening implication that over 100,000 more species are at risk than are currently considered to be so. Which is precisely why some of the most respected conservationists in the world gathered to address the shortcomings of the current system. Among them, Harvard's EO Wilson and Simon Stuart, who heads the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC).
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The Shortcomings of the Red List
The IUCN's Red List is currently the international standard for recognizing species at risk, but it only assesses 48,000 species--and Stuart admits that it has a bias towards "higher vertebrates, which include mammals, birds and reptiles," according to the BBC. Arid land, freshwater, and marine species are underrepresented, Stuart says.
So what's to be done?
Creating the Barometer
The BBC Reports:
"The barometer would broaden the reach of the Red List to make it representative of all life, that's what it's all about," Dr Stuart explained. The authors hope that broadening the taxanomic base of the Red List and increasing the database to 160,000 species would deliver practical benefits.
"A representative barometer would provide a solid basis for informing decisions globally," the authors suggested. "For example, on conservation planning, resource allocation, environmental impact assessments, monitoring biodiversity trends... and enabling countries to develop national-level biodiversity indicators."
Essentially, a better functioning species risk-assessment system would ensure that the critical issue of worldwide species lost is properly addressed, and fragile ecosystems adequately protected. Most importantly, the system would provide more and better information--as the authors note, Knowledge about species and extinction rates remains very poor, and species disappear before we know they existed."
There are definitely obstacles, however--first and foremost, the price: expanding the monitoring of threatened species by threefold would cost some $60 million. But as the scientists argue in the paper, "The barometer would, from an economic perspective, be one of the best investments for the good of humanity."
I couldn't agree more.
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