Ecosystem Management

Red List of Ecosystems

Since the state of conservation of ecosystems is constantly changing, the reality is that a red list represents the equivalent to a photograph of an ecosystem's risk of collapsing at the time of its assessment.
canaima national park venezuela

Everyone knows that coral reefs are in danger, and that the rainforests are disappearing – or do we? What do we actually know in scientific terms? How much of these ecosystems are left, and how likely are they to disappear? IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature is developing a new tool to provide answers to these questions – the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. The RLE is jointly coordinated by IUCN CEM and GEMP. It is governed by two interacting committees with specific functions: (i) the Steering Committee, and (ii) a Committee for Scientific Standards (CSS). It is supported by the RLE Thematic Group of CEM, which is a group of volunteer experts that undertake diverse duties in support of the RLE objectives.

For key documents, published assessments, ongoing initiatives, tools, etc. please visit

What is the Red List of Ecosystems?

The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria is a global standard for how we assess the status of ecosystems, applicable at local, national, regional and global levels. Assessments determine whether an ecosystem is not facing imminent risk of collapse, or whether it is vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. This will be measured by assessing losses in area, degradation or other major changes such as land conversion.

The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria are:

  1. Easily understood by policy-makers and the public.
  2. Consistent with and complementary to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, which measures  extinction risk.
  3. Transparent, objective and scientifically rigorous.
  4. Applicable to terrestrial, marine, freshwater and subterranean systems.
  5. Applicable from local and global, and from very small (fine resolution) to very large (coarse resolution) scales.
  6. Able to use historic and present-day data.
  7. Clear about how risk assessments can inform conservation, land use and investment priorities.
  8. Defined by criteria that reflect varying levels of risk and loss of function, and wich are easily quantified and monitored.
  9. A standard method for comparing ecosystems risk of collapse.

How can the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems be important for you?

We anticipate that the Red List of Ecosystems will be of great value to a number of different sectors, including:

  • Conservation: to help prioritise action, for example, in terms of ecosystem restoration and land use practices, and as a means to reward good and improved ecosystem management.
  • Land Use Planning: to highlight the risks faced by ecosystems and ecosystem services as important components of land use planning, for example, clean water, maintenance of soil fertility, pollination, and natural products.
  • Improvement of governance and livelihoods: to link ecosystems services and livelihoods, and explore how appropriate governance arrangements can improve ecosystem management and livelihood security.
  • Macro-economic planners: to provide a globally accepted standard that will enable planners to evaluate the risk and related economic costs of losing ecosystem services, and, conversely, the potential economic benefits of improved management.

How has the Red List of Ecosystems been developed?

A standardized system allows for objective, transparent and repeatable assessments of ecosystem risk, and losses of ecosystem functions and services. Such assessments are comparable between regions and time periods. At the global level, IUCN will determine the conservation status of the world’s terrestrial, freshwater, marine and subterranean ecosystems, aiming to achieve complete coverage by 2025. Criteria for determining threat categories are based on extent, historical and present day decline, and the reasons for this decline.

A similar process is taking place at the national and regional levels, but led, for example, by IUCN Members and Commissions, and their networks of collaborators. Red List of Ecosystems assessments at the local, national or regional level will be freely available in an on-line database, as a comprehensive collection of case studies in the three official IUCN languages (English, French, and Spanish), as appropriate for the countries concerned.

The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems is working towards five major targets:

  1. Classify and list the world’s ecosystems and document their status.
  2. Focus not only on threatened ecosystems but also on those that are in good condition as a result of active management, and so highlight best practices in ecosystem management.
  3. Establish a “secretariat” to manage the Red List of Ecosystems process in collaboration with the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  4. Enhance technical and institutional capacity for ecosystem red-listing at national, regional and global levels.
  5. Develop strong linkages between good ecosystem management and sectors which are not necessarily focused on conservation (e.g. national and economic planning, livelihood improvement, and the private sector).

Shaping the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems – a collaborative and adaptive process.

The Red List of Ecosystems is developed and implemented jointly by the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM) and the IUCN Ecosystem Management Programme (EMP), in collaboration with the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the IUCN Global Species Programme (GSP). They collaborate in building and promoting the Red List of Ecosystems at global, regional and national levels. This involves engaging with partners on the ground, and awareness-raising among policy-makers.

The Red List of Ecosystems complements the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and other IUCN knowledge products. When used together, ecosystem and species red lists will provide the most informative indicator of the status of biological and abiotic diversity at national, regional and global levels. The Red List of Ecosystems will provide indicators used to assess ecosystem health and support arguments for non-degraded ecosystems as a core component of human well-being, land use management, governance and macroeconomic planning.

With climate change and increased risks of disasters, we urgently need criteria at the ecosystem level to not only raise awareness about their threats, but to also demonstrate how improved ecosystem management can reduce risks, enhance resilience, and be a means for adaptation.

Risk Assessment Criteria

There are eight categories of risk for each ecosystem. Three of them are assigned on the basis of quantitative thresholds: Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), and Vulnerable (VU) – together, these categories are described as threatened. These are complemented by several qualitative categories that accommodate: 1) ecosystems that fail to meet the quantitative criteria for the threatened ecosystem categories (NT, Near Threatened); 2) ecosystems that unambiguously meet none of the quantitative criteria (LC, Least Concern); 3) ecosystems for which too few data exist to apply any criterion (DD, Data Deficient); and 4) ecosystems that have not yet been assessed (NE, Not Evaluated). An additional category (CO, Collapse) is assigned to ecosystems that have collapsed throughout their distribution, the analogue of the extinct (EX) category for species proposed by IUCN (2001).


IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Criteria


Contact: Marcos Valderrabano Red List of Ecosystems Programme Manager (Marcos Valderrabano).

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