SSC Groups

Red Listing of cacti and succulents

The Cactus and Succulent Plants Specialist Group (CSSG)

Why cacti need our help

Threats and extinction risk of cacti | The IUCN’s Red List and the Global Cactus Assessment

In order to assist the global conservation of cacti and succulents, the CSSG made one of its primary goals to assist with the evaluation of all cactus and succulent species according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.

The IUCN’s Red List is the world’s most comprehensive source of information about the extinction risk of species. This resource uses the best and most up-to-date scientific data available, and contains not only details of a species’ extinction risk but also information on current and anticipated threats, ecology, habitat requirements, use, trade, any past, present, or future conservation efforts. 

One of the CSSG’s primary goals was to evaluate the vulnerability and extinction risk of all known cactus species according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria—this highly collaborative project was called the Global Cactus Assessment. We completed this goal in 2015, producing the first global species assessment for the largest plant group ever evaluated. 

More than 60 cacti experts from around the world participated in nine workshops, reviewing information on the species' distribution maps, population size and trend, habitat, conservation actions in place and needed, and threats.

Our assessment revealed cacti to be one of the most threatened taxonomic groups assessed to date: almost a third (31%) of the 1,478 species evaluated are classified as threatened.

Threats faced by cacti 

Cacti are facing significant pressure from anthropogenic sources in arid lands—land conversion to agri- and aquaculture, collection as biological resources, residential and commercial development, smallholder livestock ranching, and smallholder annual agriculture. These threats are driven by horticultural pressures; cacti are especially affected by humans unsustainably collecting and often illegally trading seeds and live plants for private ornamental collections—some 86% of threatened cacti (203 cactus species) used for horticultural purposes (including private collections) are extracted from wild populations.

IUCN Red List global species assessment Photo: IUCN/B. GOETTSCH


Such trading has been reduced to a certain extent by the inclusion of the whole cacti family in CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which works on a global scale to protect endangered species that are traded internationally, in 1975. However, this threat is still of significant concern, especially in countries where CITES has only recently been enforced (Peru, for example, which also happens to be an area where cacti are greatly at risk).

The regions in which cacti are most threatened (‘hotspots’) tend not to overlap much with hotspots for other groups: while cacti predominantly live in arid areas, other threatened species (mammals, amphibians, birds) exist largely in more mesic (moist) areas. Threatened cacti hotspots are found across the Americas—Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Chile—alongside many areas that contain high numbers of threatened species, but slightly lower species richness—Guatemala, Colombia, and Peru—and centres of cactus diversity—the Chihuahuan Desert and Tehuacan-Cuicatlan regions of Mexico, southern Bolivia, eastern Brazil.

Assessing all plant species: an achievable goal

Determining the threat status of all known plant species has been identified as a key target for the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2011-2020 (following on from the failure to meet this goal as of 2010), but progress remains slow. 

However, our assessment suggests that global species assessments should be readily achievable for major plant groups with moderate resources; we estimate that our assessment process took roughly six hours and US$167 per taxon, including paid staff time, volunteered expert and staff time, and workshop costs. In a year, one full-time member of staff coordinating all aspects of a global assessment could evaluate around 363 species, and at a lower cost than many standard research grants issued through major funding bodies. To assess all plant species by 2020, it would thus take at least 157 people working full-time for five years, and would cost approximately US$47 million—an achievable amount, and crucial to the survival of plant species the world over.


What can be done?

For more information on our action plan, read more here.


More information on CITES
(the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

CITES aims to protect endangered species by regulating and controlling national and international trade, to ensure that a species’ survival is not put at risk. For more information on how CITES works and applies to succulent plants, read more here.


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