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Keywords:

  • Barometer of life;
  • biodiversity assessment;
  • biodiversity monitoring;
  • conservation funding;
  • extinction risk;
  • global public good

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date
  5. Making the Red List financially sustainable
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

It is estimated that the global yearly expenditure on biodiversity conservation action exceeds one billion U.S. dollars. One of the key tools for prioritizing conservation actions is the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the most authoritative and comprehensive source of information on the global extinction risk of species (covering ca. 60,000 as of today). While IUCN's vision is to increase the taxonomic coverage of the Red List, no adequate plan exists to keep it up to date. As species assessments become outdated after 10 years under IUCN rules, our simulations reveal that with the limited budget currently available for reassessment, most of the Red Listing effort may be wasted soon. Indeed, 17% of the species’ assessments are already outdated. To minimize the budget needed to keep assessments up to date in the Red List, we propose a mixed strategy of online reassessments and budget growth. We show that largely replacing workshops with online consultations is a more sustainable strategy that would save U.S. $2.8 million per year (35% of the budget). Sharing the cost of such a strategy among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (U.S. $156,000 per country per year) would ensure that the multimillion dollar spending based on the Red List remains effective in the long term.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date
  5. Making the Red List financially sustainable
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

Biodiversity, the variability among living organisms including genes, populations, species, and ecosystems, provides services to humans that have been valued in the order of tens of trillions of dollars per year (Costanza et al. 1997). Species represent the most familiar level of biodiversity to the public and decision makers. The Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN; IUCN 2013) is the most authoritative and comprehensive source of information on the global extinction risk of species (Rodrigues et al. 2006), providing an invaluable tool for assessing and monitoring the status of biodiversity over time and for helping to set priorities for conservation action. The number of species with assessments in the Red List (mostly vertebrates and plants) exceeded 60,000 in 2012, and has increased at a rate of over 7,000 species per year since 2009. Some species have been assessed multiple times (e.g., all 10,000 birds have been assessed six times, BirdLife International 2013). According to the Red List, approximately one quarter of the over 25,500 vertebrate species assessed so far is threatened with extinction (Hoffman et al. 2010).

Information from the Red List is widely used for identifying species and sites for conservation investment (Ricketts et al. 2005), the threats that need addressing and the actions to mitigate them, and for monitoring progress in tackling the biodiversity crisis (Butchart et al. 2010). It has substantial influence, from national legislation to global funding schemes. Indicators based on the Red List (such as the Red List Index, Butchart et al. 2007) are used for reporting progress against the Convention on Biological Diversity's targets (Butchart et al. 2010) and the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 7 (United Nations 2012). Among others, the Global Environmental Facility (2013), the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (2013), Save Our Species (2013) and The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (2013) invest hundreds of millions of dollars yearly in conservation action based on the Red List.

With a planned further expansion of the taxonomic coverage of the Red List (Stuart et al. 2010) and the constraint that Red List assessments are declared outdated by IUCN after 10 years (IUCN 2013), the aim of this article is to outline a strategy to minimize the budget needed to keep an expanded Red List up to date over time.

The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date
  5. Making the Red List financially sustainable
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

Assessing species’ extinction risk for the Red List requires compiling all relevant data from a variety of sources (including publications, gray literature, expert knowledge, remote sensing, etc.), and applying the quantitative Red List criteria to these data (IUCN 2001). Before 2000, this task was largely carried out on an ad hoc basis by IUCN specialists and Specialist Groups, resulting in asynchronous assessments of species with nonhomogeneous coverage across taxa (with the exception of birds: Collar & Andrew 1988; Collar et al. 1994). Now this process typically involves the organization of workshops where experts gather to pool their collective knowledge. For example, ca. 1,700 experts participated in 28 workshops over 5 years to assess 5,500 mammals (Schipper et al. 2008), and ca. 550 experts participated in 16 workshops over 3 years to assess 6,000 amphibians (Stuart et al. 2004).

The IUCN and its partners currently spend ca. U.S. $4 million per year on assessing species for the Red List: U.S.$400,000 per year for reassessments, U.S. $860,000 per year for maintenance (administration, Red List training, IT and support), and the rest for expansion (new assessments) (S.N. Stuart, personal communication). The cost of assessments in a workshop is U.S. $333 per species on average, based on data for assessments of African and Indian freshwater taxa, and European taxa, converted to 2013 currency (S.N. Stuart, personal communication). A full summary of the costs and budget is provided in Table 1.

Table 1. Data used for the calculations and the simulations. Costs and budget are expressed in 2013 U.S. dollars
DescriptionValueSource
Initial number of species in the Red List47,666Stuart et al. (2010)
Target number of species in the Red List by 2015160,000Stuart et al. (2010)
Cost of a species reassessment in workshops333S.N. Stuart, personal communication (see text for further details)
Cost of a species reassessment through online consultation68.5S.H.M. Butchart, personal data
Current yearly Red List budget4 MillionS.N. Stuart, personal communication
(Maintenance)860,000 
(Reassessment)400,000 
(New assessments)2.74 Million 
Number of years after which an assessment is considered out of date10IUCN (2013)

Stuart et al. (2010) called for an expansion of the taxonomic coverage of the Red List (mainly to include more invertebrate and plant taxa) in order to better represent life on earth. They calculated that a further U.S. $60 million would be necessary to achieve coverage of 160,000 species by 2015 (i.e., 8% of currently described species). However, if this sum was a one-off investment, the achievement would not last long. Red List assessments are declared outdated after 10 years by IUCN, as the information upon which they are based becomes less reliable over time. The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date, assuming continuation of the current expenditure per species, would be U.S. $8.1 million per year (plus the yearly inflation). This is twice the total Red List budget and ca. seven times the budget currently available for reassessments and maintenance (Table 1). Without increasing this investment, a growing number of species assessments would therefore become outdated after 2015. We calculate that after 2025, the current U.S. $4 million budget would be sufficient to keep only 13,000 out of 160,000 assessments up to date, i.e., over 90% of the assessments would become unreliable to inform conservation efforts and monitoring biodiversity trends. By 2050, the median age of assessments would be 36 (95%, ci. 3–40). Worse still, the current budget is already inadequate: 17.5% of species assessments on the 2012 Red List are already outdated. As the majority of species have been assessed within the last decade, it can be anticipated that without an efficient reassessment strategy and funding plan in place, this proportion will grow substantially in the coming years.

Making the Red List financially sustainable

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date
  5. Making the Red List financially sustainable
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

A cheaper alternative to assessment workshops is to use web-based tools such as online discussion fora through which experts can contribute relevant information and comments, review draft assessments and proposed revisions to these. This approach has been used to reassess all 10,000 bird species three times since 2001, with an estimated mean cost of U.S. $68.5 per species (S.H.M. Butchart, personal data). Over 2,300 contributors have participated in this process to date, and a much broader constituency of contributors has been built up than would be feasible through workshops. Furthermore, it facilitates longer-term engagement of contributors. Such fora can be designed to facilitate semistructured discussions, or for implementing more formal protocols for structured elicitation of expert knowledge to evaluate extinction risk (e.g., McBride et al. 2012). Building on the success and cost-effectiveness of these approaches, similar tools are now being tested for reassessments of amphibians and mammals.

Switching from in-person workshops to online consultations may have trade-offs. There may be a greater risk of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of data, or misapplication of the Red List criteria, given less direct oversight of the Red Listing process. On the other hand, the removal of serious time constraints associated with workshops could allow for more thorough checking and greater consistency and accuracy. Given that contributing scientists work on a volunteer basis, it may be more difficult or time-consuming to engage them in online consultations, but then the reduced costs may reduce delays before reassessments while funds are being raised. Online consultation will require further testing to understand better the opportunities and limitations they provide, but even if they prove extremely effective we envisage that workshops will still be required for some groups of species for which little information is available, the remote consultation of local experts is impractical, or for species requiring in-depth discussion to resolve contentious issues. In addition, workshops provide invaluable opportunities for sharing knowledge, fostering collaborations, building capacity, and training in Red Listing.

We assumed that the target of 160,000 species to be evaluated for the Red List, as advocated by Stuart et al. (2010), will be achieved soon given the current push for the expansion of the Red List, and that some species will continue to be reassessed in workshops. We assumed that each year maintenance costs are rescaled to total number of species in the Red List. We simulated a mixed reassessment strategy for 160,000 species, with 70% of species reassessed using web-based approaches, and 30% of species being reassessed through workshops, approximately corresponding to the percentage of species threatened with extinction according to the Red List (the full list of assumptions and settings of the simulations is presented in Table 2). Even with this strategy, the proportion of outdated assessments in the Red List would increase gradually to ca. 83% after 2025. To keep all species up to date with this mixed strategy, U.S. $5.3 million (plus the yearly inflation) would be needed annually (Figure 1). This level of investment is realistically achievable, given that the total Red List annual budget is already U.S. $4 million. In addition, the absolute saving compared with a reassessment strategy relying entirely on workshops would increase over time, in case the number of species and reassessments on the Red List grows (i.e., surpassing the currently proposed figure of 160,000 species). Alternative, more efficient strategies to the one proposed here could be devised to identify priority species for reassessment (e.g., based on intrinsic and extrinsic extinction risk, Cardillo et al. 2006; Davidson et al. 2009; Di Marco et al. 2012). This could further reduce the proportion of species reassessed through workshops and the total yearly budget.

Table 2. Assumptions and settings used in the two scenarios of reassessment strategy
Assumptions
By 2015, 160,000 species will be included in the Red List, with cost of new assessments covered by one-off resources (Stuart et al. 2010).
The discount rate will affect the budget and the costs equally (2013 U.S. dollar currency is presented).
Settings
Each year, from 2010 to 2050, reassessments of outdated species are prioritized based on age of last assessment, until the yearly budget is reached.
Each year, maintenance costs are rescaled to total number of species in the Red List.
In the “Workshop Scenario,” all reassessments are made through workshops.
In the “Workshop + Web Scenario,” 70% of the species are reassessed through on line consultations and 30% of the species are reassessed in workshops.
image

Figure 1. Projected number of species with up-to-date assessments in the IUCN Red List, according to different scenarios of budget and reassessment strategy. In all scenarios it is assumed that one-off resources will be available to achieve the IUCN target of 160,000 species assessed by 2015 (black dot) (Stuart et al. 2010). The solid line (increased budget) represents two scenarios: (1) Workshop scenario with a budget of U.S. $8.1 million, (2) Web + Workshop scenario with a budget of U.S. $5.3 million. Current budget (dashed line and dotted line) is U.S. $4 million (see Table 1).

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Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date
  5. Making the Red List financially sustainable
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

Unless funding for reassessing species on the IUCN Red List is scaled up substantially, we fear that by 2025, 83% of assessments will be outdated and the average age of assessments will be above 30 years. Species often move toward extinction in much less than 30 years (Hoffmann et al. 2010), therefore, this time lag poses an unacceptable risk of delaying conservation responses. For example, the saiga antelope, Saiga tatarica, declined from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered between 1996 and 2002 (IUCN 2013), and the Indian vulture, Gyps indicus, fell from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered between 1994 and 2000 owing to rapid population declines (Prakash et al. 2003). The golden toad, Incilius periglenes, discovered in 1966, was Endangered but still breeding “in normal numbers” in 1987, but had become Extinct 2 years later (Pounds & Crump 1994).

The long-term sustainability of the Red List requires cost-efficient reassessment strategies, whose adoption could be considered by the IUCN Red List committee. However, cost-efficiency alone is insufficient: sustained scaled-up funding is needed to ensure long-term viability of the Red List. The Red List is currently supported through individual fund-raising efforts carried out by IUCN and its partner organizations, and through occasional private donations. Much of the funding has come so far from foundations, plus the European Commission, with only a small percentage coming from governments. As an authoritative biodiversity monitoring tool, the IUCN Red List is clearly a “Global Public Good” (Kaul et al. 1999), with multiple uses and applications at the global, regional, national, and local levels (Rodrigues et al. 2006). Most other global common knowledge products related to health (e.g., the International Disease Surveillance) are supported through public sector investment, and we propose that the Red List should be treated similarly. Splitting the U.S. $5.3 million per year cost among OECD members would require trivial investments from each country (a U.S. $156,000 contribution to maintain 160,000 species assessments up to date), while providing considerable long-term benefits to societies worldwide.

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date
  5. Making the Red List financially sustainable
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

We are grateful to Simon N. Stuart and Mike Hoffmann for providing helpful comments on a previous version of the manuscript and for sharing useful information on the IUCN Red List. The comments of two anonymous reviewers greatly helped to improve the clarity of the manuscript. MDM is supported by a scholarship from Sapienza University of Rome. All authors are affiliated with Red List partner institutions.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The cost of keeping an expanded Red List up to date
  5. Making the Red List financially sustainable
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References