Conservation gets a common language

IUCN and BirdLife have been working with a number of other organisations to define a standard lexicon for biodiversity conservation. A common language is an essential foundation of any science. For example, medical researchers and practitioners use a common set of formal terms to describe human ailments and potential treatments.


A Blue-and-yellow-macaw in the Bird Park of Iguaçu, Brazil.

“The same is true for conservation science”, said Ali Stattersfield – BirdLife’s head of Science and co-author of A Standard Lexicon for Biodiversity Conservation: Unified Classifications of Threats and Actions (Conservation Biology). “Practitioners need a common language to talk about problems facing conservationists and potential solutions that they encounter.”

These classifications will enable conservationists around the world to identify threats and potential actions, allocate resources and set priorities.

The authors merged the best elements of previous initiatives by several organisations (including the Conservation Measures Partnership and the IUCN Species Survival Commission) into unified classifications of threats and actions.

When the new classifications were applied to 1,191 threatened bird species and 737 conservation projects, they were found to provide an improved way of analysing and comparing information across projects. 

The classifications are being distributed to conservation practitioners, organisations and agencies around the world. They are also being included in several conservation planning tools and databases, including BirdLife’s World Bird Database and IUCN’s Species Information System.

Most importantly, the new classifications will facilitate cross-project learning by allowing practitioners to precisely describe the chains linking targets, threats, contributing factors, and actions.

“These can then be shared through common databases of conservation practice, enabling practitioners to share and compare experiences more readily, ultimately leading to the development of a more systematic science of biodiversity conservation”, commented Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator.

Dr Butchart explained how the scheme works in practice. “For example, the Critically Endangered Tuamotu Kingfisher Todiramphus gambieri is threatened by predation and competition from the invasive Black Rat Rattus rattus and by cyclones causing loss of nesting trees. The new system allows us to clearly define these threats as ‘Invasive and other problematic species’ and ‘Climate change and severe weather: storms/flooding’. A key conservation action required is the provision of nest boxes to increase the availability of nest-sites. This comes under the action category ‘Species recovery: species management’. 

BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme aims to save all 190 Critically Endangered birds – including the Tuamotu Kingfisher - by finding Species Champions who will fund the work of identified Species Guardians for each bird.

The Species Guardian for Tuamotu Kingfisher - Société d'Ornithologie de Polynésie (BirdLife in French Polynesia) - is currently striving to help save the species from extinction. However, we urgently need a Species Champion to provide the necessary funds to significantly increase the conservation efforts underway.


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