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, Jess Rowland, Calvin Lee, Kate Watermeyer, Chloe Sato


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 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:

  • Impacts of the Red List of Ecosystems on conservation policy and practice
  • Indicators for measuring ecosystem change and risk at local and global scales, by Jess Rowland
  • Development of an R Programming Package “redlistr” to support calculation of consistent spatial metrics for RLE assessments by Calvin Lee

Key Publications (also see here):

Rowland J.A., Lee C.K.F., Bland L.M., Nicholson E. (2020) Testing the performance of ecosystem indices for biodiversity monitoring. Ecological Indicators 116, 106453. [link]

Lee C.K., Nicholson E., Duncan C. and Murray N.J. (2020), Estimating changes and trends in ecosystem extent with dense time‐series satellite remote sensing. Conservation Biology. doi:10.1111/cobi.13520

Rowland J.A., Bland L.M., Keith D.A. , Juffe Bignoli D., Burgman M.A., Etter A., Ferrer-Paris J.R., Miller R.M., Skowno A.L. & Nicholson E. (2020) Ecosystem indices to support global biodiversity conservation. Conservation Letters ie12680. [link].

Watson, J. E. M., Keith, D. A., Strassburg, B. B. N., Venter, O., Williams, B., & Nicholson, E. (2020). Set a global target for ecosystems. Nature, 578, 360-362.[link]

Bland L, E Nicholson, R Miller, A Andrade, A Etter, J R Ferrer-Paris, T Kontula, A Lindgaard, P Pliscoff, A Skowno, I Zager & D Keith (2019) Impacts of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems on conservation policy and practice. Conservation Letters in press [link]

Lee C., Keith DA, Nicholson E. & Murray, N. (2019) REDLISTR: Tools for the IUCN Red Lists of Ecosystems and Threatened Species in R. Ecography, 42, 1050-1055 [link]

Bland LM, Watermeyer K, Keith D.A., Nicholson E., Regan T.J. & Shannon L.J. (2018) Assessing risks to marine ecosystems with indicators, ecosystem models and experts. Biological Conservation, 227, 19-28 [link, blog]

Rowland, J.A., Nicholson, E., Murray, N.J., Keith, D.A., Lester, R.E. & Bland, L.M. (2018) Selecting and applying indicators of ecosystem collapse for risk assessments. Conservation Biology, 32, 1233-1245 [link].

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]