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The RLE process for diagnosing risks to ecosystems

The RLE process for diagnosing risks to ecosystems

This interview with Professor David Keith provides an overview of the assessment process and what it aims to achieve.

We’ll be looking at each of the criteria in more detail in the next few steps, followed by case studies that illustrate how the criteria are applied in practice. First a quick overview.

The Red List of Ecosystems risk categories - Click to download image
The Red List of Ecosystems risk categories (Nicholson, 2020)

Criteria A and B analyse spatial characteristics. Are the ecosystems declining in area? How big are the ecosystems, and how are they distributed across the landscape or seascape?

Criteria C and D measure change in ecosystem function, divided into change in the abiotic environment (criterion C), and change in the living parts of the ecosystem – its species and their interactions (criterion D).

Criterion E allows a quantitative estimate of the probability of collapse, usually using an ecosystem model. Application of this criterion requires large amounts of data so is rarely done.

The criteria work as an ensemble, representing different pathways to collapse. Therefore each of the criteria should be assessed as far as possible, given the data available.

One of the core themes you’ll see over the next part of the course is that assessments require some rigorous research, creative thinking and inference from available data.

Your task

Now that you know more about the Red List of Ecosystems approach, think back to your home ecosystem. What insights have you gained about your home ecosystem, as you developed your description, conceptual model and identified potential indicators? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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

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