IUCN Red List and the value of integrating genetics

Brittany A. Garner, Sean Hoban, Gordon Luikart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Many species on endangered species lists such as the IUCN Red List (RL) are categorized using demographic factors such as numbers of mature individuals. Genetic factors are not currently used in the RL even though their explicit consideration, including effective population size (Ne) and expected heterozygosity-loss (H-loss), could improve the assessment of extinction risk. Here, we consider the estimation of Ne and H-loss in the context of RL species. First, we investigate the reporting of number of mature individuals for RL Endangered species, which is needed to estimate Ne and H-loss. We found 77% of species assessments studied here did not report methods used to estimate the number of mature adults, and that these assessments rarely report other important determinants of Ne (e.g., sex ratio, variance in family size). We therefore applied common rules of thumb to estimate Ne, and found that Ne was likely < 50 for at least 25% of the 170 RL Endangered species studied here. We also estimated mean expected H-loss for these species over the next 100 years, and found it to be 9–29%. These estimates of high H-loss and low Ne suggest that some species listed as Endangered likely warrant listing as Critically Endangered if genetic considerations were included. We recommend that RL and other assessment frameworks (i) report methods used for estimating the number of mature adults, (ii) include standardized information on species traits that influence Ne to facilitate Ne estimation, and (iii) consider using concepts like Ne and heterozygosity-loss in risk assessments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)795-801
Number of pages7
JournalConservation Genetics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Biodiversity preservation
  • Conservation genetics
  • Effective size
  • Extinction risk
  • Number of breeders
  • Population bottleneck


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