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Assessment vertebrate groups

Red List - Volume 1: Vertebrates (2009)

General assessment for the vertebrate groups

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 Landwirtschaftsverlag


  1. The current Red Lists are based on sound science and considerably better underlying data, providing more meaningful information than earlier editions. Even without direct comparison with past lists, a clear and distinct conclusion is made possible.
  2. The Red Lists are the product of many years’ hard work, much of it by committed, dedicated and in many cases voluntary experts, without whom the project would not have been possible.
  3. Comparing short-term and long-term trends, the situation for many species has stabilised; for some it has even improved (see below). This is partly an outcome of nature conservation work.
  4. Many species continue to decline, however, and action is still urgently needed to save them.
  5. The first volume, Vertebrates, covers less than one percent of species in Germany and includes many that benefit from conservation measures (hunting bans, raptor nest surveillance, bat nesting boxes, amphibian tunnels, etc.). Although they make up such a small fraction of Germany’s biodiversity, these species attract huge amounts of conservation effort. Because of this, the findings cannot be generalised or applied directly to other animal groups such as invertebrates.

Detailed findings

In Germany occur at least 48,000 animal species and more than 24,000 plant and fungus species. Of these, 478 taxa are assessed in this volume – in other words, less than one percent of the country’s animals, plants and fungi. The species covered include the best-known taxa and all large land animals, but the findings cannot be applied to the whole diversity of species in Germany. This is partly because many of the species included attract a relatively large amount of conservation effort.

Also, most marine vertebrates (sea fish) are excluded. Marine life faces a completely different set of threats to land fauna. This is another reason why the findings of Volume 1 cannot be generalised for the entire diversity of organisms in Germany.

Volume 1 contains the Red Lists for five animal groups: mammals (Mammalia), breeding birds (Aves), reptiles (Reptilia), amphibians (Amphibia), freshwater fish (Pisces) and freshwater lampreys (Cyclostomata). The Red List of marine fish and lampreys will be published in a separate volume with the lists of marine invertebrates and marine macroalgae.

The table below shows, for each vertebrate group covered by Volume 1, the number of species assessed and the number of neobiota (the 44 neobiota make up 8.4 percent of all 522 taxa covered). See also Figure 1.


Figure 1: Number of assessed taxa in each species group in Volume 1.

Fig. 1: Number of assessed taxa in each species group in Volume 1. For each species group, the pie chart shows the absolute number of taxa and that number as a percentage of all taxa (n = 478). By agreement, neobiota are not included in the analysis.


Number of species for each vertebrate group covered in Volume 1
Group Assessed Taxa Neobiota
Total 478 44
Mammals (Mammalia) 96 9
Breeding birds (Aves) 260 20
Reptiles (Reptilia) 13 0
Amphibians (Amphibia) 20 1
Freshwater fish and freshwater lampreys (Pisces et Cyclostomata) 89 14

207 taxa are listed in Red List Category 0 (Extinct in the wild), 1 (Critically endangered), 2 (Endangered), 3 (Vulnerable), G (Indeterminate) or R (Rare). These represent nearly half (43 percent) of all assessed vertebrates. A substantial number (132 taxa, just under 28 percent of the total) are under threat (categories 1, 2, 3 and G). These plus the 37 species (seven percent) already extinct in the wild make up over a third (35 percent) of assessed vertebrates. The distribution of the five animal groups among threat categories is shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Threat situation of vertebrate groups, showing percentages of taxa in each Red List category (n = 478). The absolute number of taxa is shown in each bar segment. Neobiota are not included in the analysis by agreement.

Fig. 2: Threat situation of vertebrate groups, showing percentages of taxa in each Red List category (n = 478). The absolute number of taxa is shown in each bar segment. Neobiota are not included in the analysis by agreement.


Reptiles are the most highly endangered vertebrate group with more than 60 percent of taxa under threat. In all other vertebrate groups, less than 40 percent of taxa are under threat (categories 1, 2, 3 and G).

Over half of the taxa are not on the Red List (213, representing 44.6 percent, in the ‘least concern’ category). Forty-four taxa (9.2 percent) are ‘near threatened’ and call for special attention because there they are at risk of sliding into one of the threat categories. Fourteen species (2.9 percent) cannot be assigned to a category because of deficient data.

Nature conservation successes

Matching up the long-term (50 to 150-year) and short-term (10 to 25-year) population trends reveals recent changes compared with the long-term picture. A change in trend counts as a conservation success where a population in long-term decline has stayed stable in the short term (99 taxa, or 21 %, including Bechstein’s bat, pine marten, white stork, common sandpiper, common wall lizard, Aesculapian snake and pool frog) or else has significantly increased (44 taxa, or 10 %). Figure 3 shows the numbers of species whose populations are on a declining, steady or increasing trend in the short term and the long term.


Figure 3: Comparison of long-term and short-term trend excluding ‘data deficient’ species (long-term n = 410; short-term n = 417)

Fig. 3: Comparison of long-term and short-term trend excluding ‘Data deficient’ species (long-term n = 410; short-term n = 417). The ‘Decreasing/declining’ bar combines the classes ↓↓↓ (very severe decrease/decline), ↓↓ (severe decrease/decline) and ↓ (moderate decrease or severity of decrease/decline unknown). Neobiota are not included in the analysis by agreement.


The 44 species with significant population increases are a notable success. They are more or less evenly shared among the three largest species groups (birds, mammals and freshwater fish). Five species show a particularly strong trend reversal with their populations now back on the rise after a long period in steep decline. For three of these five – otter, wolf and beaver – the trend reversal can be attributed to nature conservation efforts. Such efforts must nonetheless be kept up, especially for species that have now become rare. Conservation measures are found to have had some impact for eight further species: wild cat, greater mouse-eared bat, Natterer’s bat, common seal and, as a contributing factor for at least regional stabilisation, leaf frog, Western green lizard, common wall lizard and Aesculapian snake. The wolf and the greater mouse-eared bat face risk factors, however, that make their positive trend unlikely to be sustained. Figure 4 summarises the short-term trends for all vertebrate species in the five animal groups in long-term decline.


Figure 4: Vertebrates whose populations are in long-term decline (n = 223) and whose population increased in the short-term trend period (44 taxa), stayed the same (99 taxa) or further decreased (69 taxa), or whose short-term trend is unknown (11 taxa). Neobiota are not included in the analysis by agreement.

Fig. 4: Vertebrates whose populations are in long-term decline (n = 223) and whose population increased in the short-term trend period (44 taxa), stayed the same (99 taxa) or further decreased (69 taxa), or whose short-term trend is unknown (11 taxa). Neobiota are not included in the analysis by agreement.

Negative developments

Wheatear

A number of species are in steep decline in both the short and the long term, including the European hamster, aquatic warbler, woodchat shrike, ruff, great bustard, golden plover, dunlin, Kentish plover, black-tailed godwit, wheatear, tawny pipit, common snipe, wryneck and lapwing.

- These species can only be conserved with the help of farmers. The European hamster needs herbaceous field margins and perennial crops for shelter, food and winter supplies. Most of the birds listed nest on the ground in wet meadows or arable fields. For them to breed successfully, their nests must be avoided when working the land.

Of special note are eight endemic species for which Germany is solely responsible. One of these is not endangered: the Königsee charr (Salvelinus monostichus) (note: English names of endemics here and in the following are literally translated from the German). Three are considered naturally rare: the Heligoland domestic mouse (Mus domesticus helgolandicus), Ammersee deepwater charr (Salvelinus evasus) and Stechlin whitefish (Coregonus fontanae). Two are endangered: the Lucin deepwater whitefish (Coregonus lucinensis) and Schaalsee whitefish (Coregonus maraena). The remaining two are critically endangered: the Chiemsee whitefish (Coregonus hoferi) and Ammersee whitefish (Coregonus bavaricus).

- There has not yet been any scientific analysis of why the Chiemsee and Ammersee whitefish are in decline. It is essential for a conservation plan to be drawn up in consultation with all lake users and rigorously enforced.

For the purpose of setting nature conservation priorities, the most useful information items in the Red List are the Red List categories assigned to each species, short-term population trends (particularly in comparison with long-term trends) and the degree to which Germany is globally responsible for the conservation of each species. Pending an analysis of responsibilities for breeding birds in accordance with a classification system adopted in consultation with numerous experts in 2004, it is currently only possible to state information on the 218 taxa in the four remaining species groups.

- The Bavarian pine vole (Microtus bavaricus), Lake Constance deepwater charr (Salvelinus profundus) and Lake Constance whitefish (Coregonus gutturosus), three species for whose global conservation Germany has an especially high degree of responsibility, have all become extinct in Germany in the last 50 years. This also makes the two Lake Constance fish species extinct worldwide.

- Top priority must be given to preventing the extinction of the Chiemsee and Ammersee whitefish, these being Red List Category 1 species for which Germany has an especially high degree of responsibility.

- Very high priority must be given to conserving the following species: Lesser horseshoe bat, Danube salmon, Lucin deepwater whitefish, Schaalsee whitefish (Red List Category 1 or 2 species for which Germany has a high or especially high degree of responsibility).

Populations of 223 taxa have declined since about 1850. Notable examples include the Rutilus meidingerii carp species and grayling. These species represent more than 50 percent of taxa found in Germany today. Populations of 74 taxa (17 percent) continue to decline, including European hamster, common snipe, Kentish plover and Crucian carp. A particularly worrying aspect is the speed of decline. In over 70 percent of cases, the rate of decline is rapid or very rapid.

Recent extinctions in Germany: 22 vertebrate species became extinct in the wild in Germany during the 20th century. In terms of species groups, such extinctions are limited to breeding birds, mammals and freshwater fish. The species concerned include Schreiber’s bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), Bavarian pine vole (Microtus bavaricus), European roller (Coracias garrulus), lesser grey shrike (Lanius minor), Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser sturio) and Lake Constance whitefish (Coregonus gutturosus).

Many of these species only had small populations in Germany. This made them very vulnerable to habitat change in their small geographical ranges. Other rare species that are geographically restricted are similarly vulnerable and are consequently listed in Category R (rare).

Adverse factors affecting fish species can include river widening, periods of very poor water quality, overfishing and fish stocking.

Preliminary trials are in progress for recolonisation of the Rhine and Elbe rivers with Atlantic sturgeon and of the Oder river with the Baltic sturgeon. Results are still pending.

No amphibian species are currently threatened by extinction (Category 1).

Last Change: 14/10/2010

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