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Red List of Threatened Species: B-Sides

Last week IUCN released its first Red List update of 2014. Within the thousands of species added to or updated on the Red List in 2014 we uncovered interesting and important data about some popular species (read about it here). In addition to these species, The IUCN Red List is also a source of data for the species that remain largely unknown to the majority of people. The conservation of these species is no less important than their A-side counterparts, but due to their small size and low profile they generally tend to go unnoticed.

chinese crocodile lizard_Lai Wagtail
Chinese Crocodile Lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus) This species is traditionally believed to act as a cure for insomnia, and the collection and consumption of the species for use in traditional medicine has likely been ongoing for centuries; with additional, novel pressures on the lizard and apparently small surviving populations this activity is now likely to threaten its survival. Photo courtesy of Lai Wagtail

The first update of 2014 included new assessments of 134 mammal species, eight of them for the first time and some new to science. It also includes the assessment of 70 species of reptile (59 species newly evaluated), 204 amphibians (10 species newly evaluated), 245 species of freshwater fishes (165 species newly evaluated) 889 species of invertebrates (815 species newly evaluated) and 1191 species of plants (1097 species newly evaluated).

Canterbury Knobbled Weevil (Hadramphus tuberculatus) _copyright Mike Bowie, Lincoln University
Canterbury Knobbled Weevil (Hadramphus tuberculatus) occurs in an area of about one square kilometer. This species has high scientific value for the study of the biogeographic and evolutionary relationships between species on neighboring islands in New Zealand. The deep phylogenetic isolation and evolution of Hadramphus in the absence of ground dwelling mammalian predators provides opportunities for molecular clock calibration studies and rates of genetic divergence within the weevils. Photo courtesy of Mike Bowie, Lincoln University

All told, 2154 new species were added to The IUCN Red List in the first update of 2014, and 579 species were re-evaluated. New species added to The IUCN Red List are those that were previously not evaluated and have now been placed into an IUCN Red List Category. Apart from the 508 species who will require more data to make a determination (the Data Deficient species) the remainder have comprehensive assessments of their range, population size, habitat and ecology, use and/or trade, threats, and conservation actions that will help inform necessary conservation decisions. However, it should be importantly noted that although some Data Deficient species did not have enough information to place them in an IUCN Red List Category, their listing as Data Deficient still guides conservation action in the same manner as other categorized species.

Should we seriously consider leech conservation?

European Medicinal Leech(Hirudo medicinalis)_copyright Ian Boyd
European Medicinal Leech (Hirudo medicinalis) has experienced recent rapid population growth and range expansion. However, this species has low genetic diversity and the potential and actual loss of wetland habitats, the global decline of amphibians, abandonment of traditional grazing practices and the scarcity of mammalian blood in leech diet are likely to affect the population and geographical range in the near future. Photo courtesy of Ian Boyd

If conservation were all about the species with whom we most emotionally connect, the leech might well be near the edge of the negative side of the spectrum, probably next to mosquitos. There are few animals that invoke such repulsion as leeches, but despite our pre-conceived notions about them, they are a species that we have relied on for medicine and education for quite some time and if you can take a step back and look at leeches objectively, they have been successfully sucking blood for millions of years and are perfectly adapted to their environment. It’s not to the point where we should start making banners and brochures shouting for leech conservation, but conservation of species cannot only be for all the species we like or are useful to people. Conservation of biodiversity should be comprehensive, and that includes leeches.

Frigate Island Giant Tenebrionid Beetle (Polposipus herculeanus)_copyright Julie Gane
Frigate Island Giant Tenebrionid Beetle (Polposipus herculeanus) Formerly categorized as Critically Endangered due to the threat from introduced rats, these were subsequently eradicated and no currently active threats have been identified. However, with its extremely restricted range the species is vulnerable to future invasions of predators or to natural disasters. Climate change is likely to lead to habitat alteration in the future, with unknown impacts on the beetle. Photo courtesy of Julie Gane

Species capture our imaginations and broad conservation programs tend to focus on those species people hold most dear, like the Tiger, White Rhino and Polar Bear. We should care about these species because the world is changing and we must make sure these species survive. But, what The IUCN Red List does, most effectively, is to provide knowledge for the conservation of species that don’t get as much attention but are equal and essential connections to biodiversity and ecosystems.

Wilson's Winter Katydid (Brinckiella wilsoni)_copyright P. Naskrecki
Wilson’s Winter Katydid (Brinckiella wilsoni) is endemic to two sensitive biodiversity hotspots, the Cape Floristic Region and Succulent Karoo of South Africa. Public participation in the website iSpot led to the addition of four locations and doubled the known extent of occurrence of the species, illustrating the potential positive contribution of volunteer science for assessing species’ distributions. Photo courtesy of P. Naskrecki

Each of these species (including the humble leech) is a marvel of evolution and represents the extant tip of a clade of life that extends deep into the history of life itself. To treat each one individually takes a significant amount of worthwhile time and effort, which is what the IUCN Red List does. Every species on The IUCN Red List has its champions and many more species are waiting for someone to take up their cause. To find your own personal favorite species explore The IUCN Red List website or  one of the IUCN specialist groups. I guarantee you that you can find an Amazing Species like those above that need your attention.