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Friday, June 2, 2017

Scientists May Be ‘Vastly’ Underestimating The Extinction Risk Facing Some Species

Scientists May Be ‘Vastly’ Underestimating The Extinction Risk Facing Some Species

The IUCN Red List paints a grim picture of the biodiversity loss we are facing as a planet. In 2016, tens of thousands of mammals, birds, insects, plants and other organisms were found to be under threat from extinction, according to the list. Of that number, more than 5,000 were considered critically endangered, including iconic species like the leatherback turtle, the Antarctic blue whale, and both subspecies of orangutan — all creatures right at the precipice of vanishing forever.

But as staggering as those numbers may sound, they may still be vast underestimates, according to a recent study out of Columbia University that challenged the accuracy of methods used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to determine the status of species.  

Specifically, the researchers concluded that the IUCN has been “systematically overestimating” the size of the habitat in which species can thrive ? errors that have possibly led to an underestimation of the number of organisms under threat of extinction worldwide. Those already listed as threatened by the IUCN may also be closer to extinction than we realize, the study said.  

The research team, led by Don Melnick, a professor of conservation biology, came to these conclusions after assessing the IUCN Red List conservation status of 18 bird species endemic to the Western Ghats mountain chain of southwest India. In the paper, published in the June edition of the journal Biological Conservation, the scientists said the IUCN had “vastly” overestimated the geographic range sizes for 17 of the 18 birds. Geographic range is one of the most basic criteria used by the IUCN to determine the level of threat facing a species; by overestimating range for most of the birds in question, therefore, inaccuracies emerged in some of IUCN’s assessments, the researchers said. 

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