21,000 species on ‘red list’ at risk of dying out

A freshwater shrimp, an island-dwelling lizard and a pupfish from Arizona have been declared extinct, while nearly 21,000 species are at risk of dying out, an updated “red list” showed.

“The overall picture is alarming,” said Jane Smart of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is behind the red list of threatened species that to-date has assessed 70,294 of the world’s 1.82 million known species of plants and animals.

Smart, who heads the union’s biodiversity conservation union, said urgent and more efficient action was needed “if we are serious about stopping the extinction crisis that continues to threaten all life on Earth.” According to the update, 20,934 species are listed as “threatened with extinction“, against 20,219 last October.

Red list manager Craig Hilton-Taylor said the rise of more than 700 species in this category was explained by increased pressure on a number of them. It was also due to species moving down from the more serious “endangered” category, as well as new species being added. The update focused especially on the decline among conifers, a category of cone-bearing trees and shrubs that includes the world’s oldest and largest organisms, such as the bristlecone pine that can live to almost 5,000 years old and the coast redwood which can reach 360ft.

The report, which provided the first global reassessment of conifers since 1998, showed 34% of the world’s cedars, cypresses, firs and other such plants are threatened with extinction — compared with 30% 15 years ago. A full 33 species of conifers declined, with the number in the endangered category, teetering on the edge of extinction, jumping to 27 from 20 in 1998, said Hilton-Taylor.

The report also provided the first-ever global assessment of freshwater shrimps, lamenting that a full 28% of the carideans vital to freshwater ecosystems are threatened with extinction.

One such species, the Macrobrachium leptodactylus, was declared extinct after it fell “victim of habitat degradation and urban development,” it said.

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