Red alert over rare species

January 15, 2003

THE well-known "Red List" that details which species are threatened with extinction is inaccurate, according to a new assessment. It concludes the list fails to reflect the true threat to species, by not taking full account of the threat posed by people.

The Red List, which is compiled by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), gauges a species' risk of extinction mainly on the basis of its population size, rate of decline and geographic range. But Alexander Harcourt and Sean Parks at the University of California, Davis, argue that this is not enough. They compare an endangered species to a house that has been left unlocked. The house is vulnerable to burglary, but it only becomes threatened when there is a burglar nearby. In the same way, a small population of animals susceptible to extinction only becomes actively threatened when it is being poached or its habitat is destroyed.

Harcourt and Parks advocate modifying the Red List criteria to include local human population density. Although a large number of people nearby may not in itself be a threat, they argue that hunting, pollution and habitat destruction, for example, are all likely to increase as people encroach on wildlife. What's more, data on human density is readily available. "We have the numbers, why not use them?" says Harcourt.

To illustrate their point, the researchers reassessed 200 primate species from the 1996 Red List. They found that 17 species designated as being at relatively low risk by the Red List should now be reassigned as high priority. Two such species are Wied's tufted-ear marmoset (Callithrix kuhlii) and the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) from South America. Contrary to the expectations of many, the researchers also found that two high-profile species, the gorilla and the pygmy chimpanzee, or bonobo, should be downgraded to a lower level of threat (Biological Conservation, vol 109, p 137).

But Craig Hilton-Taylor, Red List Programme Officer based in Cambridge, England, says that the IUCN has already introduced a specific classification system for threats such as human density. The system runs in parallel to the main Red List classification. Besides, part of the Red List's value is that you can make comparisons with past assessments, he says, and tweaking the criteria would make this impossible. "We've been asked by everyone, please don't change the system again," says Hilton-Taylor.

Harcourt maintains that making explicit threats part of the criteria is not only more accurate, it may also help highlight future problems. Matt Walpole, a conservation researcher at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England, agrees: "Where [population] data is lacking, it might be a useful way of flagging up potentially threatened species."
New Scientist issue: 18 January 2003

PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS STORY AND, IF PUBLISHING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A HYPERLINK TO: "These articles are posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to quote extracts as part of fair dealing with this copyrighted material. Full attribution is required, and if publishing online a link to is also required. Advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full - please contact Please note that all material is copyright of Reed Business Information Limited and we reserve the right to take such action as we consider appropriate to protect such copyright."

UK CONTACT - Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London:
Tel: 44-207-331-2751 or email

US CONTACT - Michelle Soucy, New Scientist Boston Office:
Tel: 617-558-4939 or email

New Scientist

Related Data Articles from Brightsurf:

Keep the data coming
A continuous data supply ensures data-intensive simulations can run at maximum speed.

Astronomers are bulging with data
For the first time, over 250 million stars in our galaxy's bulge have been surveyed in near-ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared light, opening the door for astronomers to reexamine key questions about the Milky Way's formation and history.

Novel method for measuring spatial dependencies turns less data into more data
Researcher makes 'little data' act big through, the application of mathematical techniques normally used for time-series, to spatial processes.

Ups and downs in COVID-19 data may be caused by data reporting practices
As data accumulates on COVID-19 cases and deaths, researchers have observed patterns of peaks and valleys that repeat on a near-weekly basis.

Data centers use less energy than you think
Using the most detailed model to date of global data center energy use, researchers found that massive efficiency gains by data centers have kept energy use roughly flat over the past decade.

Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.

Life data economics: calling for new models to assess the value of human data
After the collapse of the blockchain bubble a number of research organisations are developing platforms to enable individual ownership of life data and establish the data valuation and pricing models.

Geoscience data group urges all scientific disciplines to make data open and accessible
Institutions, science funders, data repositories, publishers, researchers and scientific societies from all scientific disciplines must work together to ensure all scientific data are easy to find, access and use, according to a new commentary in Nature by members of the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee.

Democratizing data science
MIT researchers are hoping to advance the democratization of data science with a new tool for nonstatisticians that automatically generates models for analyzing raw data.

Getting the most out of atmospheric data analysis
An international team including researchers from Kanazawa University used a new approach to analyze an atmospheric data set spanning 18 years for the investigation of new-particle formation.

Read More: Data News and Data Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to