Over a quarter of species on the Red List of Threatened Species face a high risk of extinction—often due to human activity. That’s the most recent report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their Red List monitors a growing list of over 112,000 species. In response, a global call-to-action has been sounded for 2020. And once again, the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy’s Parsons Field Institute is playing a key role in the fight. Urgent Call During their Leaders Meeting in Abu Dhabi, the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) issued an urgent call about the continued decline in biodiversity. Since diverse species provide food, medicine and raw materials, we need them to sustain healthy ecosystems. Plus, they are the primary source of income for millions of people around the globe. And they play a key role in maintaining our cultural heritage. To illustrate one challenge, unscrupulous collectors and horticulturalists are filling the demand for succulents by gathering rare cacti and other succulents and selling them. A study in the scientific journal Nature Plants states 86% of threatened cacti used in horticulture are extracted from wild populations. That’s why the IUCN is calling on governments, private sector and organizations to commit to action in 2020. Here’s a list of specific recommendations. The Conservancy’s Connection Our Parsons Field Institute Associate Director Dr. Helen Rowe attended the IUCN meeting as co-chair of the SSC Sonoran Desert Plant Specialist Group. In fact, the Conservancy is the host organization for this subgroup. As lead of the Sonoran Desert Plant specialist group, the Conservancy can contribute to the global knowledge base by assessing the extinction risk of all plant species across the Sonoran Desert. What we learn from these IUCN Red List assessments can be a powerful tool to drive action for biodiversity conservation and policy change. Rowe’s work with the SSC complements the Conservancy’s broader research priorities which include: 1) to assess the impact of urban stressors and climate change on the Preserve and 2) to improve best management practices in ecological restoration and control of invasive non-native plant species for the Sonoran desert and other arid lands. Get more details here. Takeaways Rowe had several takeaways from the Leaders Meeting that contribute directly to the Conservancy’s mission.

  • New assessment tools and conservation guidelines – For example, one assessment tool rapidly calculates the geographic extent of occurrence (that’s one of the criteria used to assess extinction risk). Working with students, Rowe has used it to complete over 1,000 of the 4,000 Sonoran desert plant species. Conservation guidance documents have also been developed to help with conservation planning once species have been assessed.
  • Networking insights with other species specialist groups – Rowe participated in a group that included representatives from all the plant specialist groups. The specialties ranged from the Cactus and Succulent group to the Seed Conservation group. She learned what each group was working on and discussed common issues and solutions.

The Conservancy continues to take a leadership role in conserving the biodiversity among species, both globally and in the Sonoran Desert. Want to contribute to these efforts? Volunteer to become a citizen scientist and join the fight.