Incorporating explicit geospatial data shows more species at risk of extinction than the current Red List

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Science Advances  09 Nov 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 11, e1601367
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601367


The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List classifies species according to their risk of extinction, informing global to local conservation decisions. Unfortunately, important geospatial data do not explicitly or efficiently enter this process. Rapid growth in the availability of remotely sensed observations provides fine-scale data on elevation and increasingly sophisticated characterizations of land cover and its changes. These data readily show that species are likely not present within many areas within the overall envelopes of their distributions. Additionally, global databases on protected areas inform how extensively ranges are protected. We selected 586 endemic and threatened forest bird species from six of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened places (Atlantic Forest of Brazil, Central America, Western Andes of Colombia, Madagascar, Sumatra, and Southeast Asia). The Red List deems 18% of these species to be threatened (15 critically endangered, 29 endangered, and 64 vulnerable). Inevitably, after refining ranges by elevation and forest cover, ranges shrink. Do they do so consistently? For example, refined ranges of critically endangered species might reduce by (say) 50% but so might the ranges of endangered, vulnerable, and nonthreatened species. Critically, this is not the case. We find that 43% of species fall below the range threshold where comparable species are deemed threatened. Some 210 bird species belong in a higher-threat category than the current Red List placement, including 189 species that are currently deemed nonthreatened. Incorporating readily available spatial data substantially increases the numbers of species that should be considered at risk and alters priority areas for conservation.

  • Red list
  • threatened species
  • remote sensing
  • GIS, birds
  • conservation

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