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Mantled guereza monkeys (Colobus guereza) are among ‘howlers’ assessed as endangered by IUCN Red List, often due to deforestation. Knowing fundamental demographics, such as fertility rates and how many adolescents survive to adulthood, equips scientists to assess whether populations can stave off these threats — and for how long.

Predicting extinctions: Knowing more about species helps assess timelines 

The May 6 United Nations report says extinction rates are accelerating faster than previously anticipated. Research published earlier this month shows one way global conservation scientists are improving how they assess how long a species will survive.

Until recently, predicting species extinctions required a lot of guesswork. A paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals that critical information, such as fertility and survival rates, has been missing or unavailable for more than 98 percent of known species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Click here for a summary of research findings in Dutch, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish. Other languages are also available from the “Select Language” menu at the top of this page. Thank you to San Diego Zoo Global and to volunteers for translating this important news for the Species360 member community.

This gap has far-reaching implications for conservationists seeking to blunt the impact of mass extinctions. IUCN Species Survival Commission scientists, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), TRAFFIC, Monitor, and others tasked with saving thousands of species require comprehensive data on which to make informed decisions.

“It seems inconceivable, yet experts central to sustaining biodiversity of life regularly encounter a disappointing lack of data. To compensate, scientists power through with best-guess assumptions,” said lead researcher and Species360 Conservation Science Alliance director Dalia A.  Conde.

A multidisciplinary team led by Conde and researchers from the Interdisciplinary Center on Population Dynamics, Oxford, the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, the University of Southern Denmark, and Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, alongside more than 19 other academic institutions, believes we can substantially increase what we know by applying robust analytics to data long overlooked.

Species Knowledge Index maps species demographics with data from ZIMS (right) and without (left).

Predicting when species are at risk, and how best to bolster populations, requires knowing when females reproduce, how many infants or hatchlings will survive to adolescence, and how long adults live. To understand what data are currently available, and measure the void, the team developed a Species Knowledge Index (SKI) that classifies demographic information for 32,144 tetrapods, or species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

“The index provides significant information that, in conjunction with genetic data, allows estimations of events that affect population viability. Severe population declines, sometimes called genetic bottlenecks, influence the sustainability of populations, as we have found in studying endangered rhinos,” said Oliver Ryder, Ph.D., Director of Conservation Genetics, San Diego Zoo Global.

Asian elephant family walking through the meadow in the morning.

Using go-to global sources of information, the index registers comprehensive birth and death rates for just 1.3 % of these major classes of species. A map, which illustrates the demographic knowledge available for all tetrapod classes, shows that many remain largely blank.

That changes when Conservation Science Alliance researchers add a previously untapped source, the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS). By inviting ZIMS to the party, the Species Knowledge Index gains an eightfold increase for comprehensive life table data used to assess populations.

“Adding ZIMS was like turning on the lights in an otherwise very dim room,” said lead researcher and Conservation Science Alliance director Dalia A.  Conde. “Class by class, from mammals through amphibians, we saw large blank spaces fill with points representing usable data.”

ZIMS is curated by wildlife professionals working within zoos, aquariums, refuge, research, and education centers in 97 countries. It is maintained by Species360, a non-profit member-driven organization that facilitates information sharing among its nearly 1,200 institutional members, and is the world’s largest set of wildlife data.

The study, “Data gaps and opportunities for comparative and conservation biology,” suggests a value far beyond the data itself. As Conservation Science Alliance and other researchers apply analytics to data aggregated across global sources, including ZIMS, they glean insights that impact outcomes for species in danger of extinction. Moreover, this can provide key insights for comparative and evolutionary biology, such as understanding the evolution of aging.

The New Zealand bellbird, also known by its Māori names korimako and makomako, is the only living member of the genus Anthornis. Tho widespread, its numbers remain low due to reproduction rates.

Demographic Species Knowledge Index

A multidisciplinary team of 33 scientist including data analysts, biologists, and population dynamics researchers developed the Species Knowledge Index to map just how much we know about species worldwide. The first, the Demographic Species Knowledge Index, aggregates, analyzes and maps data from 22 databases and the IUCN Red List Red List of Threatened species.

About the Study

The paper published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences is led by Dalia A. Conde, Director of the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Conservation Planning Specialist Group.


OPEN DATA Research: This study, published April 15, 2019, in journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” was conducted with support of Conservation Science Alliance founding partners the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), and Copenhagen Zoo.  The research is part of a shared commitment to answer the need for better insight to wildlife, by making breakthrough analysis of wildlife available to the global scientific community. Researchers from Interdisciplinary Center on Population Dynamics,  Oxford, the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, the University of Southern Denmark, and Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, with participants from 19 institutions, conducted the research by analyzing data aggregated across global sources including IUCN Red List, ZIMS, and more. Download the paper at PNAS. OPEN DATA is here.


The Species Knowledge Index changes dramatically with the addition of data shared by zoos and aquariums using ZIMS.

About the Study: “Data gaps and opportunities for comparative and conservation biology,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 15, 2019.

Authors: Dalia A. Conde (a,b,c,1), Johanna Staerk (a,b,c,d), Fernando Colchero (b,e), Rita da Silva (a,b,c), Jonas Schöley (b), H. Maria Baden (b,c), Lionel Jouvet (a,b,c), John E. Fa (f), Hassan Syed (g), Eelke Jongejans (h), Shai Meiri (i), Jean-Michel Gaillard (j), Scott Chamberlain (k), Jonathan Wilcken (l), Owen R. Jones (b,c), Johan P. Dahlgren (b,c), Ulrich K. Steiner (b,c), Lucie Bland (m), Ivan Gomez-Mestre (n), Jean-Dominique Lebreton (o), Jaime González Vargas (p), Nate Flesness (a), Vladimir Canudas-Romo (q), Roberto Salguero-Gómez (r), Onnie Byers (s), Thomas Bjørneboe Berg (t), Alexander Scheuerlein (d), Sebastien Devillard (k), Dmitry S. Schigel (u), Oliver A. Ryder (v), Hugh Possingham (w), Annette Baudisch (b), and James W. Vaupel (b,d,x,1).

a/Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, Bloomington, MN 55425; b/Interdisciplinary Center on Population Dynamics, University of Southern Denmark, 5230 Odense M, Denmark; c/Department of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, 5230 Odense M, Denmark; d/Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, D-18057 Rostock, Germany; e/Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Southern Denmark, 5230 Odense M, Denmark; f/Division of Biology and Conservation Ecology, School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom; g/Bir Ventures, Bloomington, MN 55425; h/Department of Animal Ecology and Physiology, Radboud University, NL-6525 AJ Nijmegen, The Netherlands; i/Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, 69978 Tel Aviv, Israel; j/University of Lyon, 69622 Villeurbanne Cedex, France; k/rOpenSci, University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, CA 94720; l/Auckland Zoo, Auckland 1022, New Zealand; m/School of BioSciences, The University of Melbourne, Royal Parade, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia; n/Estación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 41092 Sevilla, Spain; o/CNRS, Centre d’écologie fonctionnelle et évolutive, UMR 5175 1919, FR-34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France; p/Abiztar Learning Technologies, SC, Tlalpan, 14350 Mexico City, Mexico; q/School of Demography, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia; r/Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, OX2 6GG Oxford, United Kingdom; s/Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Species Survival Commission, Internation Union for Conservation of Nature, Minneapolis, MN 55124; t/Naturama, DK-5700 Svendborg, Denmark; u/Global Biodiversity Information Facility, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark; v/San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research, Escondido, CA 92027; w/Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia; and x/Duke Population Research Institute, Duke University, Durham, NC 27705

Contributed by James W. Vaupel, March 12, 2019.

About Species360 Conservation Science Alliance

Species360 Conservation Science Alliance is a research initiative that transforms global wildlife data into species conservation actions. The results equip wildlife conservation leaders with better information and tools to help save species from extinction. Founding partners include the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), and Copenhagen Zoo.

About Species360

Species360, a non-profit NGO and global leader in wildlife care and conservation, mobilizes a network of more than 1,100 zoo, aquarium, university, research and governmental members worldwide to improve animal welfare and species conservation. Our members address today’s most urgent wildlife issues, including establishing best practices in husbandry, enrichment, medical care, welfare, reproduction, population management, and biodiversity.

Together, Species360 members curate the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), the world’s most comprehensive open database of knowledge on more than 22,000 species. ZIMS vastly increases what is known about thousands of species, and is instrumental in identifying sustainability strategies for many of the species assessed as vulnerable, endangered, and extinct in the wild.

From data to applied conservation

Species360 Conservation Science Alliance researchers provide conservationists with evidence-based findings integrating the full scope of global data, including IUCN Red List, CITES, TRAFFIC, EDGE, AZE, ZIMS, and more. Research led in collaboration with IUCN Species Survival Commission, CITES, and others, drives insightful decisions on many levels, from enforcing illegal wildlife trade laws to calculating viability of insurance populations.

More Open Data Research from Species360 Conservation Science Alliance is here.

Media Contact: Mary Ellen Amodeo / Mary.Ellen@Species360.org

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