Red Lists

Red Lists are scientific publications informing about the level of threat of species

Red Lists Flag the Need for Urgent Action to Protect Species and Biotopes

Red Lists of animals, plants and fungi are condensed scientific publications documenting the level of threat to native species. They are scientific expert reports that are readily available with the aim to provide relevant background information to facilitate decisions in landscape planning projects that impact the environment. Red Lists, therefore, serve as an important early-warning system to monitor biodiversity trends. Red Lists also indicate priority conservation action required for protecting certain species and can help at the political level to assess whether the goals of the German National Biodiversity Strategy are being met. This strategy aims to preserve all wild, native species, not only within protected areas but throughout all suitable landscapes. In addition, gaps in the Red Lists emphasise the necessity for further monitoring and research.

Different expert groups develop Red Lists for defined taxonomic units. There are, for instance, individual Red Lists of mammals, macroscopic fungi, locusts and many other groups. At the national level, Red Lists are currently available for more than 60 different taxonomic groups of animals, plants and fungi. German national Red Lists not only cover threatened species but are a complete inventory of all known species of the respective taxonomic group. So far, about 40,000 of the approximately 72,000 animal, plant and fungi species that are native to Germany have been analysed and assessed as to their threat status. Red lists are updated at intervals of approximately 10 years to monitor overall changes in the status of species and to avoid reflecting short-term fluctuations in population size.

Red Lists are Important Sources of Information and Reference Documents

Asiatischer Marienkäfer (Harmonia axyridis) und Alpenbock (Rosalia alpina). Foto: Heinz Buls.

David and Goliath: Asian ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis) and Alpine longhorn beetle (Rosalia alpina). Whereas the Asian ladybeetle is an alien (neobiotic) taxon introduced by humans and therefore not subject to Red List assessment, the Alpine longhorn beetle is ‘Highly Threatened’ (‘Stark gefährdet’). It is strictly protected throughout Europe.

Photo: Heinz Buls

Red lists are complete species inventories. This means that all species of a taxonomic group that are known to occur in Germany in the wild are listed and assessed as to their establishment status. As a consequence, Red Lists also include neobiotic or alien species. These are not native but have colonized Germany through human activities. The Red Lists reflect the ever-increasing knowledge of species, which makes these lists important sources of scientific information and the starting point for further targeted research. Standard overview tables in all Red Lists provide detailed information on the taxonomy and distinctive features of species. Some information, such as the responsibility of Germany for the global protection of a species, is only available for some of the assessed species. Available data are often insufficient for an adequate assessment because reliable information on a species‘ global distribution and its global level of threat is not forthcoming.   

Since 2019, the German Red List Centre has been responsible for coordinating Red List development as well as for editing the lists and descriptive texts. The German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation publishes the Red Lists.

Descriptive Text: Basic Data and Characteristic Features of Taxonomic Groups

Red Lists are much more than just tables with names and standardized codes and acronyms. Detailed descriptive texts form a part of all Red Lists and outline how the basic data were applied regarding the threat assessment for the different taxonomic groups in a transparent manner. Changes to taxonomic checklists are an important component of the Red List documentation, such as an indication of species that are being assessed for the first time or 'new' species that are being included as a result of taxonomic splitting. The main Red List table, which is the core of each Red List, is followed by a section with species-specific comments and a concise evaluation of the major threats.

The chapter on causes of threat is of particular importance for practical nature conservation purposes as it deals with relevant measures to counteract such threats or at least mitigate their impact. In addition, a specific section lists all papers and other published documents cited in the Red List. Photos, charts, diagrams and tables illustrate the key results and identified threats as well as showing examples of typical species of a taxonomic group.