The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ is recognized worldwide as the most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It uses a system based on five criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of species and subspecies throughout all regions of the world. The IUCN Red List is scientifically based and used to track the status of biological diversity worldwide. For more information about the IUCN Red List, please visit

The Parsons Field Institute at the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy received approval in 2019 to become the host organization for the newly established Sonoran Desert Plant Species Specialist Group within the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The primary goals of this species specialist group are to assess all of the nearly 4,000 plant species in the Sonoran Desert, and plan and catalyze relevant conservation action. Each semester, Dr. Rowe trains undergraduate students at Northern Arizona University to draft assessments for target Sonoran Desert plant species. Draft assessments are the first step in the assessment process and once enough drafts are completed, an expert workshop can be held to complete these assessments, followed by a process of review and publication.

Final assessments can be found on the IUCN Red List website

By Lucas Mulcahy,

The Sonoran Desert has the highest biodiversity of any desert in the U.S. and a variety of beautiful and unique ecosystems throughout its range. Riparian areas, dry flats, and mountainous regions all have their own unique importance, in addition to the varied flora and fauna that inhabit these biomes.

As the importance of biodiverse regions continues to be emphasized and researched, the creation of a comprehensive list of species in the Sonoran Desert is an essential step towards improving conservation management.

As an intern in Dr. Rowe’s group that forms a partnership between NAU and the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, I have spent the semester assessing plants in the Fabaceae family. The focus of our group is on members of the family that are found in the Sonoran Desert. Through numerous websites and databases, we compiled information on the range, habitat, and possible threats of these species with the final goal of them being added to the IUCN’s Red List. There is a lack of specific information on many species, especially when searching for population trends or life histories. This adds complexity to the process, as we can only work with the information available to us. The nitty gritty of assessing species involves much more time spent compiling information and researching than working with the actual species, but it is just as important.

Information that is comprehensive, easy to access, and readily available for policymakers and researchers is an essential step towards more efficient and informed decision making in the field of conservation. These assessments will give conservation professionals additional information on the biodiversity and number of threatened species in the Sonoran Desert, giving them a better understanding of the complexity of this desert.

Lucas Mulcahy is a senior at Northern Arizona University majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. He grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and was given an appreciation for the Sonoran Desert and the wonder of the natural world by his grandmother, mother, and many teachers along the way. In his free time, Lucas enjoys hiking and exploring in Flagstaff and Tucson and often runs or bikes on trails nearby. He is hoping to pursue a career in conservation after he graduates in the Spring and to continue learning and sharing knowledge about the importance of the environment and all that inhabit it.