The red lists of threatened species are an excellent way to assess what are the main elements of our biodiversity that we need to protect. Some species require immediate action or their survival is at risk. A red list can tell us this kind of precious information.
However, generating this kind of list is not an easy task. It requires a lot of effort and teamwork from researchers to generate data that is reliable, consistent and useful. In fact, most of the information comes from scientist that dedicated most of their life to a particular taxon or species.
Now the question is how do you know if a species is threatened or not? And by the way… how do you categorize if the species is at the brink of extinction or maybe it’s populations are declining in a slow way? This is the job of the UICN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) where they have assigned specific criteria to know how endangered is a species. The criteria include important aspects like decline in area of occupancy and how small are the populations.
Depending on how bad the species ranks in each category then you get a clear picture and can categorize it in some categories like: Extinct (EX), Critical Danger (CR), Vulnerable (VU), Least Concern (LC) or Data Deficient (DD) . If you want to know more about the criteria and categories of the IUCN you can go here.
Some important aspects to know this classification is that a species can have a global and regional category. And that these criteria have changed over time to become more quantitative, especially by using population ecology parameters. Obviously this is far from perfect and most of the information available comes from inference and estimates in time and space, which I’m really skeptical about. Luckily technology is becoming cheaper and researchers are able to generate data with great amount of precision.
Now because my interest is focused in the tropics, I will say that Colombia as a megadiverse country was not left behind in the task. In fact we have edited this list and build them into red list books of birds, angiosperm plants, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, freshwater fish, invertebrates and fungi.
They are not just “lists” though. In fact, I have right now in my hand the red book of mammals from Colombia, and I’m looking at the cotton-top tamarin (saguinus Oedipus) and there are six pages with taxonomical commentaries, common name of the species, description, distribution, habitat and natural history, threats to the species survival and recommended conservation strategies.
I would love to have the full collection, maybe it will be possible in the future, not only because it has valuable information but because the books in itself are wonderfully edited and they look great on any shelf. These red books are just amazing for those of us who work with biodiversity and conservation. Period.