What is the IUCN Green Status of Species? An Exciting New Era in Conservation with Prof. Akçakaya

The IUCN Red List—the world's biodiversity barometer—is set for a makeover! An exciting and optimistic Green List (now known as the Green Status of Species) is on the way! But what is it exactly and how will it work? If only we had an IUCN expert at hand to run you through it...

Rhinos brought back from extinction in Uganda at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary 📸 Josh Robertson

Josh: "Wonderful to have you here Professor Resit Akçakaya, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?"

Resit: "Thank you for having me, and for this opportunity to talk about this exciting new direction in biodiversity conservation.

I am a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, which is on Long Island, New York. I teach ecology, do research in conservation biology, and mentor PhD students. In addition to being a university professor, I'm also a member of IUCN's Species Survival Commission."

Josh: "Just to familiarise our audience, who is the IUCN and what is the IUCN Red List?"

Resit: "IUCN is one of the world's oldest and largest international conservation organizations. It has several 'commissions', the largest of which is the Species Survival Commission (SSC), which is the world's largest network of conservation professionals. Almost all of the 9000+ members of SSC are volunteers, like myself. We primarily work in academia, government, and NGOs, and also contribute to the SSC. My own contribution is in the IUCN Red List programme. I chair a committee that develops guidelines about how species are assessed to be on the IUCN Red List; in other words, how to identify a species as being threatened with extinction.

IUCN Red List keeps track of the status of species in terms of how close they are to extinction.

Those that are close are called threatened species, and are separated into 3 categories: critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable. But the Red List also includes information on species that are not threatened. Most importantly, it keeps track of how the status of species are changing over time. Some species become more threatened; whereas others improve over time, mainly because of conservation actions. Currently, over 100, 000 species are assessed on the IUCN Red List.

Another role I have in IUCN is as a member of the task force that developed a new system for assessing conservation success, which we had initially called the IUCN Green List."

Josh: "What is the IUCN Green List and how does it differ from the IUCN Red List?"

Resit: "First, let me mention that the green list is now officially called The IUCN Green Status of Species.

It has two basic aims: to measure the recovery of a species, and to measure the value and importance of conservation for the species.

These aims are different from, and complementary to, that of the Red List, which is to sort species according to their extinction risks. Permit me to explain the two aims of the Green Status of Species in a bit more detail.

The first goal is to measure species recovery. This is important, because we want species not just to avoid extinction, but to improve beyond that. We want them to recover to numbers and distribution they had before major human impacts caused them to decline.

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The second goal is to measure conservation impact; i.e., to calculate how important conservation is, has been, and will be, for the recovery of the species. We defined 4 metrics for this; collectively they quantify the importance and value of conservation for a species. One of them, for instance, is called Conservation Legacy. It measures how important past conservation has been for the species. Another is called Conservation Dependence, and it measures how important the ongoing conservation measures are for the species."


Josh: "How will the Green List, now known as the Green Status, work?"

Resit: "As in the case of the IUCN Red List, teams of experts will assess the Green Status of Species. Each species will be assigned to a category for each of the 4 metrics. For example, a species can be designated as having High Conservation Legacy and Medium Conservation Dependence. These categories will be displayed alongside the species' Red List category, which measures its extinction risk.

Thus, the Green Status is complimentary to the Red List. Together, the Red List and the Green Status will present a complete picture of the conservation status of each species, providing valuable information to policy makers, wildlife managers, and conservation practitioners."

Josh: "What is the Green score and how is it measured?"

Resit: "The Green score measures how close a species is to being fully recovered. The formula for the Green Score takes into account the numbers and the distribution of the species (i.e., how many individuals there were, and where) at a baseline date. It also considers the numbers at which the species would fulfil its functions in the ecosystem."

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