IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC)


Created in 1949, the Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) is the largest of six volunteer commissions of IUCN representing a science-based network of some 8,000 scientists, government officials, and conservation leaders from almost every country of the world. Collectively, this network holds what is probably the most complete scientific knowledge base on the biology and current conservation status of species. SSC provides the best available information critical to the development of tools for species conservation. The Commission works primarily through its 120 Specialist Groups (e.g. Cacti and Succulents Specialist Group (CSSG); Global Cactus Assessment (GCA)) and Task Forces (to examine specific technical issues). In addition, the IUCN Species Programme implements global species conservation initiatives with and in support of SSC.

Many species, and species groups, need special attention, requiring species-focused conservation strategies. IUCN/SSC compiled a multitude of publications to provide guidance to specialized conservation projects and initiatives. Key documents are SSC Species Action Plans (since 1987), IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria (2001), Guidelines for Application of IUCN Red List Criteria at Regional Level (2003), The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, and Strategic Planning for Species Conservation: A Handbook (2008).

For more than 30 years the Species Survival Commission has been evaluating the conservation status of species and subspecies on a global scale. The SSC Species Action Plan series (over 70 published to date) assesses the conservation status of species and their habitats and outlines conservation priorities. Compiled by SSC's Specialist Groups, they are one of the world's most authoritative sources of species-related conservation information available to natural resource managers, conservationists and decision makers around the world. In 1997, IOS member Sarah Oldfield and the IUCN/SSC Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group (mainly IOS members) compiled the Cactus and Succulent Plants: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (14.85MB) pdf_small (1K)
Today, with more biological and conservation-related information on species available, emphasis is increasingly on implementation of Action Plans. They are intended to focus attention on urgently needed action and then enhance the probability that this action takes place. More prescriptive guidelines on the identification of priorities, clear recommendations, the Identification of those most able to act, and collaboration with these target audiences should enhance Action Plans' effectiveness.

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria evolved through extensive consultation and testing with more than 800 SSC members, and the wider scientific community. They are intended to be an easily and widely understood system for classifying species at high risk of global extinction. The general aim of the system is to provide an explicit, objective framework for the classification of the broadest range of species according to their extinction risk. Specifically, the Categories and Criteria aim to provide a system that can be applied consistently by different people, to improve objectivity by providing users with clear guidance on how to evaluate different factors which affect the risk of extinction, to provide a system which will facilitate comparisons across widely different taxa, and to give people using threatened species lists a better understanding of how individual species were classified. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. Currently, the IUCN Red List website is the principle means of making IUCN Red List information available to the world. The List provides detailed information on the conservation status, threats, and distribution of species. A particular focus is to identify and provide information on those species most at risk of extinction, so that conservation efforts can be focused where they will have the biggest impact on halting extinction. The Red List uses the IUCN/SSC categories and criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species.
The overall aim of the Red List is to convey the urgency and scale of conservation problems to the public and policy makers, and to motivate the global community to try to reduce species extinctions. With its strong scientific base, the Red List is recognized as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity. Government agencies, wildlife departments, conservation-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs), natural resource planners, educational organizations, and many others interested in reversing, or at least halting the decline in biodiversity, use the Red List. It also helps influence national and international policy, and provides information to international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the latter one being a partner of IOS, supported directly or through the SSC Cacti and Succulents Specialist Group.

To improve the process of listing species, Red List Authorities (RLAs) have been established for all taxonomic groups. RLAs are responsible for assessing the status of specific taxonomic groups for inclusion in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. In most cases, the Authority is the appropriate SSC Specialist Group responsible for a species, a group of species, or a geographic area. Red List Authority Focal Point (main contact person) for Cactus and Succulent RLA is IOS member Wolfgang Stuppy. No new species will be added to the Red List until it has been evaluated by an appointed RLA. All species on the list must be re-evaluated at least once every 10 years.

In order to conduct IUCN Red List assessments across the globe, IUCN relies heavily on the support of many key institutional partners, without which the progress made to date on expanding the content on the IUCN Red List would not have been possible. In 2001, the IUCN/SSC and the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) at Conservation International (CI) established the Biodiversity Assessment Unit, with the aim of rapidly expanding the geographic and taxonomic coverage of the IUCN Red List. IUCN and Conservation International have largely overlapping aims, both working with governments and multilateral organizations to further build on conservation momentum and opportunities. IUCN/SSC and CI/CABS are also collaborating with other partners to expand the coverage of the IUCN Red List into cacti. The goals for each species group assessment are the same: to map the distribution and assess the conservation status of each species in order to establish global baselines for biodiversity monitoring. The Biodiversity Assessment Unit also provides advice on guidance on the use of these data for conservation planning, management, monitoring and decision-making.

All data underlying the Red List will eventually be maintained in a series of databases that make up the SSC's emerging Species Information Service (SIS). SIS aims to become a worldwide species information resource (interlinked databases of species-related information managed by SSC's network of Specialist Groups). Thus the vast amount of information held by the SSC network will be easily accessible to the conservation and development communities including scientists, natural resource managers, educators, decision-makers and donors, and will contribute to integrated biodiversity conservation products. SIS will focus on two areas: (1) Improving the ability of the SSC and IUCN Red List Partners to collect, manage, and use species information; (2) Enhancing and improving the usability, accessibility, and reach of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ as IUCN's principle means for disseminating species conservation information.

SSC works in close association with IUCN's Species Programme (SP) that coordinates, produces, maintains and manages The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
In this set-up, SSC's major role is to provide information to IUCN on biodiversity conservation, the inherent value of species, their role in ecosystem health and functioning, the provision of ecosystem services, and their support to human livelihoods. SSC members also provide technical and scientific advice to conservation organisations, government agencies and other IUCN members, and support the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.
The IUCN Species Programme on its part supports the activities of SSC and its constituent Specialist Groups, acts as Secretariat focal point for SSC, conducts communications work, helps implementing global species conservation initiatives with and in support of SSC, and facilitates inputs to conventions. The Species Programme is responsible for coordinating many of the assessment projects, implementing species conservation projects and overseeing the quality control of the Red List.
Both, Species Programme and SSC work together with a wide variety of partners.

IUCN/SSC has recognized the need for the Strategic Planning for Species Conservation. This Handbook (8 MB) pdf_small (1K), published in 2008, and the shortened Overview version (3 MB) pdf_small (1K) provide guidance to IUCN/SSC Specialist Groups on when and how to prepare and promote Species Conservation Strategies (SCSs). This guidance includes advice on how to conduct a thorough Status Review; how to develop, through broad consultation with stakeholders, a Vision and Goals for the conservation of a species or species group; how to set Objectives to help achieve the Vision and Goals; and how to address those Objectives through geographically and thematically specific Actions. The Strategic Plan is organized in three thematic areas: (i) facilitating the co-creation of sustainable solutions; (ii) creating strategic communication platforms; (iii) leveraging new learning for professional development.

This strategy also drives the new approach to SSC Action Plans and the current quadrennial IUCN programme Shaping a Sustainable Future (3 MB) pdf_small (1K).

Each of IUCN's six Commissions have been requested to formulate their Strategic Plans and work plans for the next intercessional period around five Thematic Priority Areas, and ten Global Results. The Species Survival Commission and the Species Programme have jointly generated the Framework for IUCN Strategic Plan on Species 2009 - 2012. IOS contributes through its members in the Plant Conservation Network to achieve the goals of the Species Survival Commission.

Continue: Plant Conservation Network

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Trichocereus pasacana, Bolivia, Potosi, Isla del Pescado ©Ingrid&Rainer Mecklenburg

Trichocereus pasacana
Bolivia, Potosi, Isla del Pescado ©Ingrid&Rainer Mecklenburg

Senecio praecox, Mexico, Oaxaca ©Graham Charles

Senecio praecox
Mexico, Oaxaca ©Graham Charles

Espostoa utcubambensis, West of ChachapoyasPeru, Dept Amazonas, Prov. Chachapoyas ©Holger Wittner

Espostoa utcubambensis
West of ChachapoyasPeru, Dept Amazonas, Prov. Chachapoyas ©Holger Wittner