Forests, river basins, coral reefs, wetlands, mangroves — all provide us with clean air, food, water, defence against climate change impacts and a host of other benefits, yet many of these natural systems face unprecedented threats.
But what do we actually know in scientific terms? How much of these ecosystems are left, and how likely are they to disappear? These questions are being answered by IUCN with its new global standard for assessing ecosystem risk.
Five years of research and consultation are paying off as the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems gains momentum and its use in guiding natural resource management around the world is increasingly recognized.
And now the team behind the Red List of Ecosystems is among three finalists for a prestigious environmental research award, the Eureka Prize, sponsored by the Australian Museum. The overall winner will be announced on 10 September.
The team is led by Professors David Keith and Jon Paul Rodríguez, both members of IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management. Since the publication last year of the Red List of Ecosystems categories and criteria, the team’s work has generated worldwide interest among scientists and conservation practitioners, as well as government authorities and those involved in land and water management.
Scientists using this system have already assessed many ecosystems around the world, including Caribbean coral reefs (assessed as Endangered) and the Aral Sea (assessed as Collapsed).
"To stem widespread biodiversity loss and the decline in the services provided by ecosystems, we need to make a difference across whole landscapes and seascapes,” said Professor Keith. “We now have a rigorous method that will allow people to track the status of ecosystems, diagnose the causes of decline and do something about it."
"It's all about better decisions for the world’s ecosystems that frame our cultures, sustain our economies, provide our food, water and clean air, and ultimately support our quality of life,” he said. “The Red List of Ecosystems will help people and nations make choices about how to best manage their lands and waters.”
“Already the Red List of Ecosystems criteria have been influential in conservation projects in Scandinavia, the Carpathians, north and west Africa, South America and Australia," said Professor Rodriguez.
"Our goal is to achieve global coverage of ecosystem assessments within the coming decade to provide scientific evidence for action towards better natural resource management and conservation results for both people and nature," he added.