IUP professor monitors threatened species

Dr. Josiah Townsend, assistant professor of biology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania,  has become a part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUCN Red List is a global online database that focuses on the conservation of endangered species around the world.

The Red List is a less expensive, more effective species assessment method that uses virtual connection like Skype and online assessment methods.

The Red List has become a replacement for physical workshops and conferences used in the past for experts.

The Red List offers the flexibility needed for the minimum requirement of an update on species assessments every 10 years.

As a team member for assessment inMesoamerica, Townsend’s personal focus is primarily on amphibians in the area.

Those around the world involved with the Red List bring the information they have together to evaluate species and put them into one of four different categories: least threatened, endangered, critically endangered and extinct.

“We’re careful with the extinct category,” Townsend said.

“It’s hard to prove a negative in the wild. You haven’t seen one for fifty years, but amphibians can be very secretive. Just because you haven’t seen one doesn’t mean they’re entirely extinct.”

During evaluation, the known distribution, last sighting of the species  and baseline scientific information are questioned.

The Red List, which is considered a quantitative measure, is used primarily to keep evaluations up-to-date.

“We have to ask questions like, has something changed that we don’t know about?” Townsend said, “if there is a sudden change in the real world, we may have to go back to the species and reassess.”

Of the nearly 800 species covered, almost one-third of them are endangered.

The amphibian list is the most developed, closely followed by the just finished mammal category.

Amphibians are considered the highest priority due to our current global amphibian crisis, threatening extinction for entire species of amphibians.

The purpose of the Red List is more about conservation than the information.

“It’s basically taxonomy for conservation,” Townsend explained.

“Country policymakers put the little money they have for conservation policies toward areas that have the most critically endangered species.”

Townsend works primarily on finding new species and giving information about them immediately to the government of the country where discovery happened. The initial process of getting people together for the cause is currently taking place.

“It’s more like habitat protection,” Townsend said.

“It has to be done with an immediate purpose. These are declines that are happening right now, right in front of us. What is the real meaning of this? What can be done now that we know about it?”

Dr. Ariadne Angulo, a coordinator of the amphibian group for the IUCN, said the main purpose of the Red List as the assessment of genuine changes in risk for extinction.

“It essentially works as a barometer for extinction,” Angulo said.

Though experts are most heavily involved, the Red List will have an effect on students on campus and everyday members of the Indiana community.

“I think it’s a very good thing to get started,”Katlyn Plotzer (freshman, speech pathology) said.

“Especially if you’re worrying about the planet and everything living on it. It creates connections and opens up horizons for those who want to get involved with the field, to have somebody known to the IUP campus involved.”