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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 6 secondsI'm David Keith. I work in Sydney. I'm a professor of botany there at the University of New South Wales.

Skip to 0 minutes and 15 secondsGetting involved in risk assessment of ecosystems is something that I've been interested in since the early 1990s. At a conference in 2006, I got together with a couple of colleagues, John Paul Rodriguez and Emily Nicholson. And we talked about the possibility of developing a new method for doing that. There was a resolution at the World Conservation Congress, and we embarked on a consultation process, where we held workshops in five different countries around the world. And that was the basis of developing the new risk assessment method that became the Red List of ecosystems.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 secondsThe Red List of ecosystems has a very close relationship with the Red List of threatened species. Many of us are involved in the development of the Red List of ecosystems had a background that began in the Red List of threatened species. And an important consideration is that they operate at different levels of organisation and biodiversity. So it's certainly the case that the two of those tools to inform decision makers about risks to biodiversity are very complementary. There are some things that get down to detail in terms of assessing risks of extinction of individual species that are not really dealt with by Red List in ecosystems.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 secondsAnd conversely, there are interactions between species and important trends in common species that after all provide many of the functions of ecosystems. But they're not really addressed in assessing risks to individual species, so it's very important that those different levels operate together. And therefore, the complementarity of those two different kinds of realist assessments is very, very important in conservation decision making.

Why a Red List of Ecosystems?

The success of the Red List of Threatened Species highlighted the importance of understanding risks to biodiversity.

There are many reasons for targeting ecosystems, as well as species.

Why ecosystem conservation matters

We have to conserve ecosystems in the physical place they exist. We can put an endangered species into a zoo to keep it from extinction but we can’t move whole ecosystems. Ecosystems are parcels of land and sea, lakes and rivers, with all their living and non-living components.

Sustaining ecosystems means whole assemblages of species survive into the future. This includes species that we don’t even know exist, estimated to be over 10 million globally. Changes to common and widespread species can affect how whole ecosystems function but are often overlooked when management or policy focusses on threatened species. Targeting ecosystems also means thinking about how species interact with each other and with their environment. For example, fishing affects whole food-webs in marine ecosystems.

Red List of Ecosystems assessments help us to not only look at the symptoms of decline, but also the causes of it. This is extremely useful in the management of ecosystems and species.

Nature’s contributions to people

Our well‐being depends on ecosystems. Nature’s contributions include clean air to breathe, water to drink, food and our very existence. These are sometimes referred to as ecosystem services.

You’ll learn more about how ecosystems sustain people through many of our case studies. You can read more about nature’s contributions to people by exploring the website of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). IPBES is the intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services, sister to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The need for a standardised global approach

It became clear that there was an urgent need for ecosystem assessment and many countries and groups started developing their own approaches to fill this gap.

Countries and states, NGOs and researchers developed or proposed their own methods to assess risks to ecosystems independently, to fill this need. But this meant the final assessments weren’t comparable, because different criteria were used in different countries or by different groups, even within the same region.

In 2007 the team decided to develop a Red List of Ecosystems, to act as the new global standard.

Applying the Red List of Ecosystems in Australia

Australia provides a good example of the need for a common approach to ecosystem assessment.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, the federal government and state governments each developed their own methods, with different criteria and thresholds for assessing whether ecosystems were threatened. An ecosystem might be listed as endangered in one state but not even considered threatened in another.

To provide a common method and framework, and more consistent outcomes, in 2017 Australia’s state and national governments agreed in principle to use both the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the IUCN Red List of Ecosystem criteria.

Your task

Read this abstract to see how protocols differed within Australia prior to the development of the Red List of Ecosystems.

After you have read the abstract share what you think are the three main benefits of implementing the Red List of Ecosystems protocols?

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

Deakin University

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