A simple, sufficient, and consistent method to score the status of threats and demography of imperiled species

A simple, sufficient, and consistent method to score the status of threats and demography of imperiled species


Managers of large, complex wildlife conservation programs need information on the conservation status of each of many species to help strategically allocate limited resources. Oversimplifying status data, however, runs the risk of missing information essential to strategic allocation. Conservation status consists of two components, the status of threats a species faces and the species’ demographic status. Neither component alone is sufficient to characterize conservation status. Here we present a simple key for scoring threat and demographic changes for species using detailed information provided in free-form textual descriptions of conservation status. This key is easy to use (simple), captures the two components of conservation status without the cost of more detailed measures (sufficient), and can be applied by different personnel to any taxon (consistent). To evaluate the key’s utility, we performed two analyses. First, we scored the threat and demographic status of 37 species recently recommended for reclassification under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and 15 control species, then compared our scores to two metrics used for decision-making and reports to Congress. Second, we scored the threat and demographic status of all non-plant ESA-listed species from Florida (54 spp.), and evaluated scoring repeatability for a subset of those. While the metrics reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are often consistent with our scores in the first analysis, the results highlight two problems with the oversimplified metrics. First, we show that both metrics can mask underlying demographic declines or threat increases; for example, ???40% of species not recommended for reclassification had changes in threats or demography. Second, we show that neither metric is consistent with either threats or demography alone, but conflates the two. The second analysis illustrates how the scoring key can be applied to a substantial set of species to understand overall patterns of ESA implementation. The scoring repeatability analysis shows promise, but indicates thorough training will be needed to ensure consistency. We propose that large conservation programs adopt our simple scoring system for threats and demography. By doing so, program administrators will have better information to monitor program effectiveness and guide their decisions.

Jacob Malcom

As Director in the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders, Jacob leads CCI’s work at the intersection of science, technology, and policy to improve conservation outcomes, especially for threatened and endangered species.