Posted by: Dan | April 24, 2010

A Blue List of Species Back from the Brink

As far as ecology is concerned, we now live in the Age of Extinction. Researchers estimate that the rate that plant and animal species are going extinct is about 1,000 times the pre-industrial background rate; the diversity of life on Earth is undergoing a massive upheaval as humanity re-designs the face of the planet.

To catalogue species approaching the brink of extinction and identify conservation targets, the Red List of Threatened Species was founded in 1948. Through such an inventory, governments and NGOs can easily identify species of concern and plan how we continue to develop the world in such a way as to minimize the damage that we sow. This inventory also serves to direct rescue efforts, bringing back species that are extremely few in number. The New Scientist website has a nice gallery of five species that have been brought back from the brink through the Red List and similar efforts, such as the Pink Pigeon and the Bali Starling of which only 10 and 6 were left in the world by 1990 and 2001, respectively (now there are about 350 and 150 of them). Other success stories that I’m fond of for birds are the Mauritius Kestrel (4 left by 1980, now more than 800) and the Whooping Crane (15 left by the 1941, now numbering about 340 in the wild).

Bali Starling, Leucopsar rothschildi (Brookfield Zoo, Chicago)

Such recovery efforts have been widely lauded, and as more species come back from the brink thanks to such successful efforts, people naturally want to have a one-stop shop for following their continued recovery. So apparently some have thought (back in 2000!) to create a blue list:

Conservation successes are more common than people think. Many species are on the road to recovery. In the US, the bald eagle and the relict trillium are no longer declining. Better still, the brown pelican and the Mississippi alligator might no longer need the protection of the US Endangered Species Act. In Europe, the ibex has been successfully reintroduced in the Alps. Sparrowhawks and goshawks have recovered in many parts of the world after the banning of certain pesticides.

Most of these improvements have not been widely reported, yet celebrating them can counter the apathy induced by bad news and give people hope. With this in mind, I have got together with over 30 other scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the University of Zurich and local conservation authorities. We have drawn up “Blue Lists”: registers of endangered species whose fortunes have improved. We have reported on this in detail in Conservation Biology, vol 14, p 402.

Gigon A., Langenauer R., Meier C., and Nievergelt B. (2001) Blue Lists of Threatened Species with Stabilized or Increasing Abundance: a New Instrument for Conservation. Conservation Biology Volume 14 Issue 2, Pages 402-413.



  1. Hi Dan,
    What a wonderful post!!! First the picture is awesome and second I learned a lot.. Thank you very much for that…
    I’m also using Molecular Biology but more into genetics and use of genetics as a tool for conservation of marine organisms and sustainable management of marine resources!

  2. Thanks greatly Chris.

    Very interesting that you’re working with genetics for conservation of marine organisms and their resources. I’d be very interested to read anything that you had to discuss on the topic!


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