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This content is taken from the Deakin University's online course, IUCN Red List of Ecosystems: The Global Standard for Assessing Risks to Ecosystems. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 15 secondsHello, and welcome to this Deakin course on the Red List of Ecosystems, the global standard for ecosystem risk assessment. My name's Emily Nicholson, and I'm associate professor in conservation science at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. I'll be leading you through your exploration of the Red List of Ecosystems, and I'm looking forward to meeting you online. Until recently, we had no consistent way to assess risks to whole ecosystems. Just over a decade ago, I joined up with a group of passionate scientists to develop a new method, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. We needed an approach that could tell us which ecosystems are at risk of collapse in the near future and why.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 secondsWe also wanted it to tell us which areas need protection and which should be restored to support the diversity of species and ecological processes. We needed a method based in science and that used hard data and provided definitive categories of risk. It had to deal with the complexity of nature but be easy to understand. In 2014, this new approach, the Red List of Ecosystems, was adopted as a global standard by IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature. And that's what we're here to learn about. I've taken the opportunity to get out of the office and into this beautiful ecosystem-- the mountain ash forest. It's one of our Red Listed Ecosystems that is closest to my home in Melbourne.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 secondsIt's home to a plethora of plants and animals, including these extraordinary mountain ash trees, which are amongst the tallest in the world, and also the critically-endangered Leadbeater's possum. You'll learn more about this ecosystem and why it's critically endangered during the course. But before we go any further, I want to recognise the critical role that indigenous people hold and have held for millennia in sustaining ecosystems. Listening to their voices and supporting their custodianship of country will be key to sustaining culture and nature into the future around the world, across Australia, and here in the lands of the Kulin nation. And now that we've met, let's get started.


Nature is under threat around the world. Understanding where ecosystems are at greatest risk allows us to act to sustain species and ecosystems.

Ecosystem risk assessments give us information that helps us conserve, manage and sustain our environment. They are based on scientific data and made within a scientific framework. A rigorous standardised assessment method supports decision making and informs strategies for management at the same time.

You will discover how IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) can influence conservation policy and practice and explore the potential for conserving the ecosystems you care about.

Global Standard

IUCN Red List of Ecosystems is the global standard for assessing the risk of ecosystem collapse. It is used by governments, non-government organisations, scientists and practitioners around the world. The Red List of Ecosystems was established by the respected IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The Red List of Ecosystems approach evaluates the risk of ecosystem collapse by measuring ecosystem loss and degradation.

We will refer to some important resources throughout the course, so we recommend you bookmark them now.

The RLE team is currently developing two new and exciting tools, which are not yet officially launched – you will also get the first views of them. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their full development and launch has been delayed. You will explore these and learn more about both in the second week of the course:

  • The new RLE database will house all RLE assessments, and currently has a subset of the thousands that have been performed globally.
  • The Global Ecosystem Typology provides a framework for describing the ecosystems of the world.

What you will learn

Hearing directly from the scientists who developed the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems will give you an insight into how to perform risk assessments on ecosystems locally, nationally or globally. Week 1 is at an introductory level and Week 2 dives into the scientific process in more depth.

This course will allow you to:

  • describe the purpose of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems
  • assess the benefits of the Red List of Ecosystems approach to ecosystem conservation and management
  • explore the process of completing ecosystem assessments
  • define the characteristics of ecosystems
  • examine the challenges of defining ecosystems
  • identify threats to ecosystems and how to measure them
  • understand Red List of Ecosystems outcomes and categories of risk
  • place the Red List of Ecosystems in the landscape of conservation policies and tools.

Meet your teaching team

Your Lead Educator is Emily Nicholson (Associate Professor of Conservation Science at Deakin University). Emily was one of three scientists who started the development of the Red List of Ecosystems risk assessment process. She will share her expertise to explain why we need a global standard for ecosystem assessment and how the Red List of Ecosystems fulfils that role. You can explore Emily’s world-recognised research in ecosystem conservation at Conservation Science at Deakin.

Throughout the course you will also be supported by Chloe Sato who is a researcher at Deakin University School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Throughout the course, you will meet some of the world’s best scientists working on assessing risks to ecosystems and explore their work through case studies from around our planet.

Your task

Take a moment to introduce yourself to the group in the comments below and share your experience in conservation, if you have any. If you would like to share your location with your fellow students, please add yourself to our Padlet map. We’d love to see where you are.

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This video is from the free online course:

IUCN Red List of Ecosystems: The Global Standard for Assessing Risks to Ecosystems

Deakin University

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Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: