Story | 24 Apr, 2023

The new IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology promotes a comprehensive approach to analyze ecosystems in the face of present and future challenges

The new IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology is a comprehensive classification framework for Earth’s ecosystems that integrates their functional and compositional features. This new typology will help identify the ecosystems that are most critical for biodiversity conservation, research, management and human wellbeing into the future.

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The IUCN Regional Office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean (ORMACC) and the Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM), shared on April 11, 2023 the IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology through a webinar in which more than 50 people participated, many of whom representing IUCN Member organizations of the region.

"This tool represents an IUCN flagship product", expressed the Regional Director of IUCN-ORMACC, Úrsula Parrilla, "since it fills the existing gap in terms of a globally agreed framework for ecosystems categories”. This tool is especially relevant in the current context, in which the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has just adopted the new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. She also highlighted how this tool represents a concrete contribution to Resolution 061 approved by the IUCN Assembly of Members in the framework of the World Conservation Congress (Marseille, 2021), in which both the Secretariat and Members are urged to adopt this typology in support of national, regional and global efforts to assess and manage risks to ecosystems. “This resolution unites us all, and ultimately this typology becomes that arm of knowledge that will allow us to advance in our new ambition as a Union”, concluded Mrs. Parrilla.

Mr. Bernal Herrera, CEM Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, highlighted that "the typology is one of those products that demonstrate how different regional professionals and researchers have a space, a platform, as is this Commission, to have a global impact. I think this is one of the Commissions’ great added values​”.

Rocío Córdoba, CEM Chair for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, presented the work carried out by the Commission in the region, with special emphasis on the promotion of the network of young professionals, a priority issue not only for the region but also globally. Other important activities of the Commission include the promotion of webinars on priority topics; the compilation of case studies in collaboration with the Nature-based Solutions (NbS) Working Group and the promotion of synergies between the Steering Committee, the Working Groups and professionals from the region. "At the Commission, we are very interested in working with the different IUCN pillars in the region and in incorporating more and more members, especially young professionals," said Mrs. Córdoba.

The Global Ecosystem Typology was developed starting in 2017 by a group of CEM researchers and experts, led by Mr. David Keith from the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia). Mr. José Rafael Ferrer-Paris, senior researcher at the mentioned University and member of the team that developed the typology, defines it as “a joint effort of many people and institutions, developed over more than five years. It is a type of work that never ends, because the results will always be refined, adding more information and reviewing what is available”.

The typology, published by IUCN (v2.0) and by the journal Nature (v2.1), constitutes the first comprehensive reference framework for the classification and mapping of Earth's ecosystems, integrating their functional and compositional characteristics.

As explained by Mr. Ferrer-Paris, the typology comprises six hierarchical levels. The top three levels (realms, biomes, and functional groups) classify global ecosystems on the basis of their functional characteristics or ecological processes. The three lower levels (regional subgroups, global types and subtypes) distinguish functionally similar ecosystems according to the specific characteristics of the local or regional biota, whose presence and interactions affect common processes. The methodological principles on which the typology was built allow to carry out synthesis and comparison processes between functional groups in each of the levels, and therefore allow the transfer of knowledge between types of similar ecosystems.

The typology defines 5 realms (atmospheric, terrestrial, subterranean, marine and freshwaters and saline wetlands) and 25 biomes. It describes the main characteristics and mechanisms of 110 functional groups of ecosystems, including 15 anthropogenic ones, indicating their global distribution. The development of the three lower levels of the hierarchy will be carried out in the future jointly with regional and national experts, and will allow the integration of classifications already established in those levels.

In this sense, Mr. Ricardo Wong, President of the National Committee of Members of Panama, commented that "we all have to play with these maps, with these ecosystems, see how the six levels interact, see the subgroups and the way in which they are integrated, and the analysis that must be carried out from the top down and from the bottom up. This will give us a framework so that the general public understands the value of nature and the effort that we all have to make together to protect it”.

For more information on the IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology access: Global Ecosystem Typology (