IUCN Red List of Ecosystems

The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) Categories and Criteria is designed to support conservation and resource management by identifying those ecosystems most at risk of biodiversity loss (Keith et al. 2013). Researchers at Deakin and their collaborators are working on further development and testing of RLE indicators and methods.


Emily Nicholson, Lucie Bland, Jess Rowland, Calvin Lee, Kate Watermeyer


David Keith, Nick Murray, Richard Kingsford(UNSW), Tracey Regan (ARI and University of Melbourne), Mark Burgman (Imperial College London), Rebecca Lester (Deakin), Jon Paul Rodriguez (IUCN), Irene Zagar (Provita), Carlos Zambrana (Ecohealth Alliance) and Rebecca Miller (IUCN) – see more below.

About our research:

Members of the Conservation Science Lab, led by Dr Emily Nicholson, have been involved in the development of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, a tool that provides a pexels-photo-884547.jpegstructured and quantitative approach to evaluating the risk of ecosystem collapse. It has been designed to synthesise and integrate disparate data to achieve an objective, spatially explicit, and easily communicated assessment.  The theoretical framework underpinning the criteria for  the IUCN Red list of Ecosystems is described in this paper (Keith et al. 2013). These guidelines for assessing ecosystem risk were officially adopted by the IUCN in May 2014, to complement the Red List of Threatened Species and provide a comprehensive assessment of global biodiversity.

How it works:  Ecosystems are assessed against scientific criteria to estimate the risk of ecosystem collapse, and assigned to threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable) or non-threatened categories (Near Threatened, Least Concern). Ecosystems that are profoundly degraded or transformed are assigned to Collapsed. The assessment criteria relate to changes in ecosystem distribution (criteria A & B) and function (criteria C, D & E). Changes in Red List status over time reflect ongoing degradation or recovery, and can provide for a means to monitor the effectiveness of management, conservation, and restoration actions. Repeat assessments can measure progress towards goals, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Targets and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


Aerial view of the Aral sea before and after collapse 

 Projects include:

  • Development of guidelines for the application of IUCN RLE criteria by Lucie Bland
  • Defining ecosystem collapse and methods for selecting indicators of risk by Jess Rowland and Lucie Bland
  • Development of an R Programming Package “redlistr” to support calculation of consistent spatial metrics for RLE assessments by Calvin Lee
  • Jess Rowland is working to develop new biodiversity indicators of risk to ecosystems based on changes in extent and health using data from the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems.

Key Publications (also see here):

Murray, N.J., Keith, D.A., Bland, L.M., Ferrari, R., Lyons, M.B., Lucas, R., Pettorelli, N. & Nicholson, E. (2018). The role of remote sensing in structured assessments of ecosystem status. Science of the Total Environment, 619, 249-257 [link]

Bland L., Regan, T.J., Keith, D., Murray, N., Rodriguez, J.P., Rowland, J., Linn, M., Lester, R. and Nicholson, E., (in press). Developing a standardized definition of ecosystem collapse for risk assessment. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
[link, pdf on Researchgate]

Bland, L.M., Regan, T.J., Dinh, M.N., Ferrari, R., Keith, D.A., Lester, R., Mouillot, D., Murray, N.J., Nguyen, H.A. & Nicholson, E. (2017) Using multiple lines of evidence to assess the risk of ecosystem collapse. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284 [link]

Pettorelli, N., Schulte to Bühne, H., Tulloch, A., Dubois, G., Macinnis-Ng, C., Queirós, A.M., Keith, D.A., Wegmann, M., Schrodt, F., Stellmes, M., Sonnenschein, R., Geller, G.N., Roy, S., Somers, B., Murray, N., Bland, L., Geijzendorffer, I., Kerr, J.T., Broszeit, S., Leitão, P.J., Duncan, C., El Serafy, G., He, K.S., Blanchard, J.L., Lucas, R., Mairota, P., Webb, T.J. & Nicholson, E (2017) Satellite remote sensing of ecosystem functions: opportunities, challenges and way forward. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, in press [link]

Murray, N.J., Keith, D.A., Bland, L.M., Nicholson, E., Regan, T.J., Rodríguez, J.P. & Bedward, M. (2017) The use of range size to assess risks to biodiversity from stochastic threats. Diversity and Distributions, 23, 474–483 [link].

Bland, L. M., Keith, D. A., Miller, R. M., Murray, N. J., & Rodríguez, J. P. (2017). Guidelines for the application of IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria, version 1.1. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. ix + 99pp.

Keith, D.A., Rodríguez, J.P., Brooks, T.M., Burgman, M.A., Barrow, E.G., Bland, L., Comer, P.J., Franklin, J., Link, J., McCarthy, M.A., Miller, R.M., Murray, N.J., Nel, J., Nicholson, E., Olivera-Miranda, M.A., Regan, T.J., Rodríguez-Clark, K.M., Rouget, M. & Spalding, M.D. (2015) The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems: motivations, challenges and applications. Conservation Letters, 8 (3): 214–226 [link].

Nicholson E., Regan T.J., Auld T.D., Burns E., Chisholm L.A., English V., Harris S., Harrison P., Kingsford R.T., Leishman M.R., Metcalfe D.J., Pisanu P., Watson C.J., White M., White M.D., Williams R.J., Wilson B. & Keith D.A. (2015). Towards consistency, rigour and compatibility of risk assessments for ecosystems and ecological communities. Austral Ecology, 40 (4): 347–363 [link], part of a special issue on Ecosystem risk assessment.

Rodríguez, J.P., Keith, D.A., Rodríguez-Clark, K.M., Murray, N.J., Nicholson, E., Regan, T.J., Miller, R.M., Barrow, E.G., Bland, L.M., Boe, K., Brooks, T.M., Oliveira-Miranda, M.A., Spalding, M. & Wit, P. (2015) A practical guide to the application of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems criteria. Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B, 370: 20140003, DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0003 [link].

Keith D.A., Rodríguez J.P., Rodríguez-Clark K.M., Nicholson E., Aapala K., Alonso A., Asmussen M., Bachman S., Bassett A., Barrow E.G., Benson J.S., Bishop M.J., Bonifacio R., Brooks T.M., Burgman M.A., Comer P., Comín F.A., Essl F., Faber-Langendoen D., Fairweather P.G., Holdaway R.J., Jennings M., Kingsford R.T., Lester R.E., Mac Nally R., McCarthy M.A., Moat J., Oliveira-Miranda M.A., Pisanu P., Poulin B., Regan T.J., Riecken U., Spalding M.D. & Zambrano-Martínez S. (2013) Scientific foundations for an IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. PLoS ONE, 8(5): e62111 [link]

Rodríguez, J. P., K. M. Rodríguez-Clark, D. A. Keith, E. G. Barrow, J. Benson, E. Nicholson and P. Wit (2012) IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. S.A.P.I.EN.S [Online] 5.2

Rodriguez J.P., Rodriguez-Clark K.M., Baillie J.E.M., Ash N., Benson J., Boucher T., Brown C., Burgess N., Collen B., Jennings M., Keith D.A., Nicholson E., Revenga C., Reyers B., Rouget M., Smith T., Spalding M., Taber A., Walpole M., Zager I. & Zamin T. (2011). Establishing IUCN Red List Criteria for threatened ecosystems. Conservation Biology, 25, 21-29. [link]

Nicholson E., D. A. Keith, and D. S. Wilcove (2009) Assessing the threat status of ecological communities. Conservation Biology, 23 (2): 259-274. [link]