The IUCN red list of ecosystems: Motivations, challenges, and applications

David A. Keith, Jon Paul Rodríguez, Thomas M. Brooks, Mark A. Burgman, Edmund G. Barrow, Lucie Bland, Patrick J. Comer, Janet Franklin, Jason Link, Michael A. Mccarthy, Rebecca M. Miller, Nicholas J. Murray, Jeanne Nel, Emily Nicholson, María A. Oliveira-Miranda, Tracey J. Regan, Kathryn M. Rodríguez-Clark, Mathieu Rouget, Mark D. Spalding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


In response to growing demand for ecosystem-level risk assessment in biodiversity conservation, and rapid proliferation of locally tailored protocols, the IUCN recently endorsed new Red List criteria as a global standard for ecosystem risk assessment. Four qualities were sought in the design of the IUCN criteria: generality; precision; realism; and simplicity. Drawing from extensive global consultation, we explore trade-offs among these qualities when dealing with key challenges, including ecosystem classification, measuring ecosystem dynamics, degradation and collapse, and setting decision thresholds to delimit ordinal categories of threat. Experience from countries with national lists of threatened ecosystems demonstrates well-balanced trade-offs in current and potential applications of Red Lists of Ecosystems in legislation, policy, environmental management and education. The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems should be judged by whether it achieves conservation ends and improves natural resource management, whether its limitations are outweighed by its benefits, and whether it performs better than alternative methods. Future development of the Red List of Ecosystems will benefit from the history of the Red List of Threatened Species which was trialed and adjusted iteratively over 50 years from rudimentary beginnings. We anticipate the Red List of Ecosystems will promote policy focus on conservation outcomes in situ across whole landscapes and seascapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-226
Number of pages13
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Conservation status
  • Ecosystem classification
  • Ecosystem collapse
  • Ecosystem services
  • IUCN Red List of Ecosystems
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
  • Threatened ecological communities
  • Threatened habitat types

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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