Red List of Ecosystems: An integrated tool for assessment

By Somaya Magdy Ghoraba, IUCN CEM Young Professional.

Why is it essential to assess ecosystems? The simple answer is that because ecosystems (ecological systems) are our natural assets and we need to decide what happened to our assets with time. Ecosystems include natural resources such as air, water, soil, land, biodiversity, energy etc. When human obtains benefits from these resources; they become ecosystem services such as food, water purification, nutrient cycling, climate control… Even aesthetic and spiritual values are among the ecosystem services we get from the natural artistic landscapes.

It is now apparent that there is an active link between ecosystems and human practices. To achieve development human have changed the natural conditions of the environment. The projection towards industrial transformations has increased the exploitation of natural resources associated with increasing wastes and pollution levels in air, water and soil. Here comes the role of ecosystem assessment to define the state of our assets by analysing the impact of different threats. It is the first step in management and conservation of ecosystems, and thus improvement of the quality of ecosystem services provided to us.

The Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) can be considered as the newly comer assessment protocol, which was adopted by IUCN in 2014. Up till now, RLE was applied on more than 2800 ecosystems distributed in 100 countries.

IUCN RLE around the world (Source: Bland et al., 2019)

Those assessments vary between systematic assessments (which assesses all ecosystem types in an area) and strategic assessments (targets specific ecosystem type). For more details review the publication by Bland and coworkers, which revealed that RLE outcomes have influenced conservation actions on different levels such as government regulation, planning and management of protected areas, setting restoration investments, sociocultural impacts, public awareness and decision making.

The application of RLE allows an assessor to define which ecosystems are at high risk of collapse (loss of distinct habitat and biodiversity), how risks change with time and what effective policies to be implemented for sustainable management. The protocol and methodology of RLE are explained in detail in the guidelines published by the Commission on Ecosystem Management CEM and available on RLE website. RLE implies using standard criteria and categories to assess ecosystems at risk, which is considered as an advantage that allows the comparison between the same ecosystems in different places of the world or maybe in the same country.

For my PhD project, I applied the RLE to assess one of the important wetlands of Egypt. The results obtained from the assessment provided an overview of the current state of the wetland. The outcome will definitely help decision-makers to adopt a management strategy by prohibiting the most threatening activities and tracking the most relevant variables related to the ecological balance of the ecosystem.  I strongly recommend researchers to apply the RLE on different types of ecosystems as a previous step for achieving sustainability.    

Ms Somaya Magdy Ghoraba currently doing her PhD at Department of Environmental Sciences, Alexandria University, Egypt.

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