Green research aids access

Date Published: 01.07.2021

Latest conservation research by Wadham Fellow Molly Grace has been translated into outreach materials for secondary school students.

Dr Grace, Fellow by Special Election in Biology, is working to coordinate the development of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Green Status of Species, to assess species’ progress towards recovery.

Her ground-breaking research has been shared in a magazine and online platform aimed at inspiring teens and young adults worldwide to pursue careers in science, tech, engineering, maths, medicine (STEMM) and research. 

Working with Futurum Careers Molly’s research has been adapted to provide free education and careers resources that can be downloaded for use in classrooms and at home. The resources are available for schools and students all over the world through on a website, newsletter and teaching repositories. 

The resources are aimed at secondary school pupils, aged 14-19. The aim is to introduce them to academic researchers and the range of research that is being conducted around the world, as well as inspire them about the potential careers available in research. 

Wadham's Access and Outreach team is also signposting the research in their work with prospective students.

As Task Force Co-Chair for the IUCN Green Status of Species, Molly’s research, assessing species’ potential for recovery and progress toward it, is essential for effective conservation efforts.

Molly's 'Green Status' research

The IUCN assesses the natural world and advises on measures needed to safeguard it. Their ‘Red List of Threatened Species’ measures species’ risk of extinction and is used by governments and conservationists around the world to guide conservation action.

Molly has helped lead the development of a new tool, the IUCN ‘Green Status of Species’. This new assessment tool focuses on evaluating species’ recovery rather than simply avoiding extinction, allowing conservationists to determine how well their efforts are working.

“Extinction risk is measured in absolute terms (e.g., if population size has dropped below a certain threshold, or if decline is happening at a certain rate) but recovery is relative,” says Molly.

“Assessment of recovery uses several factors: Where the species was found prior to major human impacts; how much of that historical range the species currently occupies; the likelihood of the species continuing to exist in those areas (its viability); whether the species is performing its ecological functions. Once we have these measurements, a species is assigned a category, ranging from Fully Recovered to Critically Depleted,” she explains

Assessing these criteria is not simple, as population declines often began before scientists were recording population sizes. Techniques such as examining genetic diversity in existing populations can be used to estimate past conditions.

Molly has worked with over 200 conservation scientists in 38 countries to apply her work to the species they were studying, and improved our methods using their feedback.

“One big challenge has been designing the Green Status method to be scientifically rigorous but also user-friendly,” says Molly.

“So far, we’ve tested 123 threatened species from the Red List,” says Molly. “Of those, we estimate that 33 of them (including the California condor, Jamaican rock iguana, and Chinese swamp cypress) would be extinct today if it wasn’t for the hard work and successful actions of conservationists.”

Next, Molly aims to capture enough Green Status assessments to understand global patterns of species recovery, helping scientists to plan future conservation efforts. While the Red List helps conservationists prioritise which species most urgently need conserving, the Green Status points to a brighter future – recovery of species, and ultimately entire ecosystems.

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