We’re familiar with the terms ‘Endangered’, and ‘Threatened’ when referring to species under threat from extinction. But the process behind these categorisations, and just how important they are for biodiversity conservation, is a bit of a mystery to most. While there are local, national and regional lists of threatened species, it’s the internationally-recognised, global list that has the most influence on biodiversity conservation worldwide. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (the ‘Red List’) is the list that provides the most objective, comprehensive and scientific information about the conservation status of species on a global scale.
Species are assessed using IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria to determine their relative risk of extinction. The categories range from Extinct (pretty self-explanatory) to Least Concern (meaning that a species is safe… for now). For some species, though, there’s not enough information for scientists to decide if the species is even threatened or not, and these are categorised as ‘Data Deficient’. Alarmingly, about one-fifth of all amphibians fall into this category.
The Red List is important in land-use decisions, biodiversity monitoring and biodiversity conservation, and it’s therefore vital that it’s kept accurate and up-to-date. As new species are discovered, it’s important that they are assessed, and it’s equally important that species already assessed are regularly updated to reflect the current state of knowledge. Just because a species was doing just fine five years ago, it doesn’t mean that it is now. And if species aren’t assessed, or have outdated conservation statuses, then conservation resources may be directed to species that don’t need it as much as others.
Because of the importance of the Red List, I help update the list for amphibian species in mainland Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam). Fantastic colleagues and interns help me with this enormous and ongoing task, but it’s slow-going and largely done in our spare time.
This year, we’ve added two newly discovered species to the Red List (the Vampire Flying Frog Rhacophorus vampyrus and Helen’s Flying FrogRhacophorus helenae) and reassessed a species urgently needing it (the Lao Salamander Laotriton laoensis). All three amphibian species were assessed as Endangered, which is obviously not good news for them. However, I hope that their listing on the Red List will help direct much-needed conservation resources towards them and ensure their long-term survival.
We’re now working on the 50 or so amphibian species that have been recently described from mainland Southeast Asia and are not yet assessed for the Red List. We will then work on updating assessments for the hundreds of other species of amphibian from the region to ensure they are up-to-date and conservation decisions are based on the best information possible.
Please contact me if you’re interested in joining our team as an intern and being part of The Amphibian Red List Authority, assessing the extinction risk of amphibian species in mainland Southeast Asia.