[Taxacom] From Simon Stuart: global mammal assessment

Beach, James H beach at ku.edu
Tue Nov 4 11:53:45 CST 2008


From: Simon Stuart [mailto:s.stuart at conservation.org] 
Sent: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 11:22 AM
To: Conservation Commons List; TAXACOM at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: RE: [Conservation Commons] global mammal assessment

An email sent to several listserves, including Conservation Commons and
Taxacom, by Donat Agosti, makes several assertions about the Global
Mammal Assessment initiative led by IUCN particularly concerning its
flouting of the Conservation Commons principles. In our opinion this
message reflects a very limited knowledge of the IUCN Red List process
and greatly undervalues the magnitude of the task undertaken by
thousands of scientists around the world. For this reason, I am
providing some clarity on the issues raised:


1) First, a clarification: the Global Mammal Assessment, as the project
was called during its five-year project life-span, was a joint
initiative, led by IUCN, but in collaboration with several other
institutions (see  <http://www.iucnredlist.org/mammals>
http://www.iucnredlist.org/mammals), to reassess the conservation status
of all the world's mammals (up until this year, the assessments for more
than 3,000 were flagged as "out-of-date"). As with the amphibian
assessment completed in 2004, all results of this initiative were
incorporated directly into the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Therefore, the statement in the author's email that "a press release,
.... covering the mammals on the Red List not the GMA" is incorrect,
since the two are the same. The GMA is simply a tool, a process, which
IUCN used to mobilize a network of experts and specialists to reassess
the status of all mammals. It is NOT a separate entity and in no way
dissociated from the IUCN Red List.


2) The author claims that "Since the begin of the biodiversity crisis in
1986, Redlisting has not changed". The biodiversity "crisis" started
well before 1986, but more importantly the Red Listing process has
undergone major and fundamental changes since that date: criteria were
developed (1994) and revised (2001); a website (www.iucnredlist.org
<http://www.iucnredlist.org/> ) was created aiming at actually putting
the information in the public domain; entire groups have been assessed,
some several times; and indeed the entire assessment process has become
more robust requiring a minimum set of supporting documentation to
underpin the assessments. A document providing more information on the
IUCN Red List "The IUCN Red List a key conservation tool" can be found
at www.iucn.org/redlist.


3) The author is correct that the original Science paper is not open
access (Schipper et al. 2008; 322: 255). For now. While IUCN cannot be
responsible for this, we are in the process of working with Science to
create a link that will give users access to the complete text of the
paper, including the supporting online material. 


4) The mammal data contained in the IUCN Red list are all freely
available online, and have been since the launch of the list on October
6th. IUCN maintains a well-advertised, well-regarded site that provides
free, unhindered access to the data (www.iucnredlist.org
<http://www.iucnredlist.org/> ). As the author notes, this site includes
a press release regarding the results, but actually all the data are
accessible here, too. A comprehensive mammal portal has been developed
(http://www.iucnredlist.org/mammals) that provides access to basic
information on the process, some detailed analysis, description of the
data, and acknowledgements. In addition, ALL of the spatial data
collated in the process are available for download free, including an
accompanying metadata file.


5) The author's comment about the amphibian data is absolutely puzzling.
Data collected via the Global Amphibian Assessment have been freely
available since 2004 (i.e., even prior to Bangkok) in fact, on not just
the IUCN Red List website, but also on a parallel site hosted by
NatureServe (www.globalamphibians.org <http://www.globalamphibians.org/>
), which also served up the spatial data freely to the public. The
latter site is soon due to be discontinued and visitors will be
redirected to a portal on the IUCN Red List site (similar to mammals)
where they will be able to access all the data, review summary results
and stats, see the acknowledgements, and access the spatial data (just
as they currently can on the NatureServe site). The data have been
updated twice since 2004, both in 2006, and again in 2008 (when some 366
new species were added). 


6) IUCN's primary purpose is to provide maps showing the general extent
of occurrence for each species, since EOO is one of the thresholds used
to determine whether a species warrants listing in a threatened
category. In reality, many range maps available on the IUCN site are
much more than just EOO maps, but indeed highly accurate maps showing
where species actually occur. It is currently beyond the scope of the
IUCN Red List to collate, synthesize and curate point locality data,
although IUCN supports initiatives to do so. Any attempts by IUCN to
move into this domain would come at a significant cost to its core
business of expanding the coverage, both geographically and
taxonomically, of the IUCN Red List.


7) The assertion that expert-derived, peer-reviewed data such as that
contained in the IUCN Red List index cannot be used for monitoring
purposes is simply false. It is precisely for this reason that the IUCN
Red List Index was developed to chart changes in threat status of
biodiversity (based on the number of species that moved between
categories as a result of genuine changes in threat status). The Index
has recently been adopted by the UN to report against goal 7 of the
Millennium Development Goals. The RLI is already being used to track
progress towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target (see here for more info


8) For information on the data collection process, there is a host of
information on www.iucnredlist.org/mammals that outlines the methodology
and assessment process. Red Listing does include the widest community
possible: the amphibian assessment has involved nearly 700
herpetologists in the assessment work since inception; the mammal
assessment, more than 1,700. Our ongoing initiatives on freshwater,
marine, plant and other taxa are similarly inclusive, not just of
international expertise but indeed also of national and in-country


In summary, while we would never be so bold as to proclaim the IUCN Red
List, or the Red Listing process, as perfect, we do consider it to be
robust, improving, and still the best source of current information
available to inform the conservation of biodiversity globally. The Red
List makes use, and makes available, a lot of expert-derived information
that would otherwise never have reached the public domain. Most
importantly, we believe that the IUCN Red list ascribes fully to the
principles of the Conservation Commons, and will always aspire to ensure
that everyone has access to the best biodiversity data available to
inform conservation. We always welcome constructive suggestions for
improving the Red List process. 


Simon N. Stuart


IUCN Species Survival Commission


From: Donat Agosti [mailto:agosti at amnh.org]
Sent: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 4:55 AM
To: 'Conservation Commons List'
Subject: [Conservation Commons] global mammal assessment 

An example of total ignorance of Conservation Commons principles: The
Global Mammal Assessment.


Four years after the Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA), the Global
Mammal Assessment (GMA) hit the news, this time including an impressive
number of 1,700 contributing scientists, covering all the mammals of the
world. It was one of the few topics that hit the press around the globe
during the WCC of an otherwise rather despressive coverage of the WCC,
and with it the issues of conservation. This cold be blamed to external
factors such as the global financial crisis, but I think, the GMA itself
might be symptomatic for the disinterest.


Why? Try to find the GMA on the web. The original Science paper is not
an open access paper, and thus for most of the readers off, since you
need a credit card to read it. Most of the people in the places where
biodiversity disappears don't have the means to do this. But even, when
you get the paper, you can download the auxiliary materials, which
refers to the original data, but does not provide access to it. The next
step would be to go to IUCN, but their web site (http://iucn.org
<http://iucn.org/> ) does not provide a link to it. So, why not go to
There is nothing either. A next step is to check out the Redlist web
D=1695)  where there is finally a press release, but this only covering
the mammals on the Red List not the GMA. 

Obviously, there is no easy way to get to the anything else than press


When we talked about the GAA in Bangkok four years ago, the management
of the GAA stressed, that all the data will be available online. It is
not yet.


During the last four years, our technology changed dramatically. One of
the most striking change is the availability of remote sensing data
allowing access to high resolution remote sensing data to even the most
remotest corner of the world. How does the GMA approach to draw simple
envelops around the know distribution records or their species live up
to this resolution? There are plenty of new programs around that could
produce predictive maps, and which are actually used. This approach
would actually mean, that the technology is more sophisticated and a
little bit more living up to what new data is offering other than
essentially experts opinion. It would also allow to challenge the
experts, if they would have to provide access to the observation they
used to derive their conclusion.


There are well over 100M observation records available through GBIF.
Data that is not systematically used in the GMA. It can be argued, that
there are a lot of problems with that data - but it can at least be
criticized or challenged, which is part of the scientific process.
Expert's opinions can not, since their base data is not available.
Probably more importantly, such experts' data can not be used for
monitoring purposes, since it is impossible to compare data over time,
such as would be needed in Countdown 2010. Finally, how representative
is the experts data? How well do they know their species? How has the
data been collected that went into their analysis?


Since the begin of the biodiversity crisis in 1986, Redlisting has not
changed. It is easier to fly around the world from meeting to meeting,
to communicate via email, to use GIS and thus a wider group can be
covered. But it all depends on experts - a kind of expert knowledge that
can easily be challenged. What should be done is to remove the expert
from providing polygons to somebody that provides point data with proper
GPS records taken in the field, modeling and GIS experts, and not least
an infrastructure allowing others to pick up the data and run an
independent analysis. Redlisting should not be the domain of few experts
(who identifies them anyway?), but should strive to include the widest
possible community. It needs this to live up to this very daunting task
to measure the dynamic distribution patterns and changes of our species.
It should also provide the community to use the data to make their case
in places where one might not expect it. Only the application of the
Conservation Commons Principles will allow that.







Dr. Donat Agosti

Science Consultant

Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History and Naturmuseum
der Burgergemeinde Bern

Email: agosti at amnh.org

Web:  <http://antbase.org/> http://antbase.org

Blog:  <http://biodivcontext.blogspot.com/>

Skype: agostileu

CV <http://antbase.org/agosticv_2003.html> 

Current  <http://antbase.org/agosti_loc_bern.kmz> Location

Dalmaziquai 45

3005 Bern


+41-31-351 7152

+1-202-558 0330



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