‘Red List’ Is Among Top Data Resources on Threatened Species

November 20, 2019

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An endangered green turtle, above, in a 2018 rescue operation. The species is one of thousands listed as endangered on the so-called Red List, an invaluable database for reporting on biodiversity loss. Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr Creative Commons. Click to enlarge.

Reporter’s Toolbox: ‘Red List’ Is Among Top Data Resources on Threatened Species

By Joseph A. Davis

As more and more species are made vulnerable by various human insults to the planet, the rolls of those that are now endangered grows. 

Two key databases can help environmental journalists keep track of this evolving story, including one major source about to be updated, most likely with bad news for biodiversity.


Where the data comes from

The first resource is the so-called Red List of Threatened Species, the world’s biggest and best database of endangered species information. 

The Red List is maintained by the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which brings together governments, civil organizations and biological experts. 

The Red List’s next update is in December 2019. Reporters can also count on Red List-related news when the IUCN World Conservation Congress takes place June 11-19, 2020, in Marseilles, France.

A second key source of information, for journalists in the United States, is the Endangered Species List. 

Under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (and amendments), listing of a species as endangered or threatened activates certain legal requirements to protect it. That makes it important to follow.

The list is administered mainly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the Interior Department.


How to use the Red List data smartly

To start, jump right into the most recent IUCN Red List. It has a very helpful query engine.


There are currently more than 

105,700 species in the Red List database, 

and there are plans to add many more.


You can look things up by species name, for sure. There are currently more than 105,700 species in the database, and there are plans to add many more. You can also download map-linked data by starting here

And once you register, you can look things up taxonomically — by kingdom, phylum, class, etc. Or you can search by land region or marine region. Or you can search by threats (e.g., building development or agriculture). Or by use and trade (e.g., food or apparel). 

There are many other filters you can use to refine your search. There are also links to studies and research on the species.

Note that there is a rigorous process for putting species on the Red List, involving a formal extinction risk assessment, usually conducted by specifically designated scientific experts. 

Also, note that not all the species in the database are on the actual Red List. But when there is inadequate documentation or information on a species, that is noted.


How to use the Endangered Species List data smartly

Meanwhile, the database that contains the Endangered Species List, or ESL, is accessible here. Today, there are about 2,244 species on the U.S. Endangered Species List, of which 1,618 are in the United States. 

You can search by species or state or a few other criteria, but the search engine filters are hardly as sophisticated as those on the IUCN Red List. 

The ESL database is, however, map-linked. And, importantly, it includes information on candidate species, critical habitat and recovery plans — which is what you will often be writing about. 

Sadly, it is difficult to download one big database for playing with at home, but the persistent will find most of it here.


Additional resources

If you are writing or data-crunching about species — endangered or otherwise — you may also want to be aware of the mother of all species databases: the Catalogue of Life

The Catalogue has information on some 1.8 million species. Still, that is a mere fraction of all the species on the planet, amounting to some 8.7 million, by one estimate.

Really, though, there are a lot of species databases (into algae? birds? catfish?). 

Here is a listing of some of this data bounty.

Joseph A. Davis is a freelance writer/editor in Washington, D.C. who has been writing about the environment since 1976. He writes SEJournal Online's TipSheet and Reporter's Toolbox columns. Davis also directs SEJ's WatchDog Project and writes WatchDog Tipsheet, and compiles SEJ's daily news headlines, EJToday.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 4, No. 42. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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