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Stony Brook University Professor Contributes To Pivotal Red List Study Of Endangered Species

Stony Brook University Professor Contributes To Pivotal Red List Study Of Endangered Species

Research article, ‘The Impact of Conservation on the Status of World’s Vertebrates’ recognized as one of the largest collaborations in the study of ecology

STONY BROOK, NY – November 24, 2010 – As chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List Standards and Petitions Subcommittee, Professor H. Resit Akçakaya, of the Department of Ecology and Evolution and a member of the Consortium for Inter-Disciplinary Environmental Research, helped develop guidelines for the application of rules used in assessment of threatened species. Now, a major synthesis of these threatened species assessments has shown that although one-fifth of all vertebrates are at risk of extinction, conservation efforts are making a difference in slowing the slide of many species towards extinction. 

The Impact of Conservation on the Status of the World’s Vertebrates, of which Dr. Akçakaya is one of 174 co-authors, represents one of the largest collaborations in the study of biological conservation. The study, based on information compiled in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the most authoritative global list of species found to be near extinction, reports that, “One-fifth of species are classified as Threatened, and we show that this figure is increasing: On average, 52 species of mammals, birds and amphibians move one category closer to extinction each year. However, this overall pattern conceals the impact of conservation successes, and we show that the rate of deterioration would have been at least one-fifth as much again in the absence of these.”    However, the study also concludes, current conservation efforts are inadequate to counteract agricultural expansion, logging, overexploitation, and invasive species—the main causes of biodiversity loss.

The article, which used data from 25,780 vertebrate species on the 
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
, will be published in the journal Science in coming weeks.  An early online version was released in Science Express on October 26, 2010.

This is not the first time Dr. Akçakaya has been involved in conservation efforts; he has been working in the field of biological conservation since 1980 and has been involved in both practical and theoretical research on problems of species conservation, including several population viability analysis studies. Dr. Akçakaya completed his Ph.D. in theoretical ecology in 1989. He served on the Criteria Review Working Group of the IUCN and is currently chair of its Red List Standards and Petitions Subcommittee, which develops guidelines for threatened and endangered species assessments and evaluates petitions against the red-listing of these species. 

Regarding his work Dr. Akçakaya commented, “I contributed to the development of guidelines for assessing threatened species. This paper is a synthesis of these kinds of assessments for the world’s vertebrates.”

The sobering news that one-fifth of the world’s vertebrate species are near extinction, and the encouraging news that the rate of endangerment is slowed down by conservation efforts, came as world politicians met in Nagoya Japan at the United Nations’ 10th Convention on Biological Diversity, held October 18-29, 2010, to set conservation goals for 2020.

“History has shown us that conservation can achieve the impossible, as anyone who knows the story of the White Rhinoceros in southern Africa is aware,” says Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and an author on the study. “But this is the first time we can demonstrate the aggregated positive impact of these successes on the state of the environment.”

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