Matt Ford

Freshwater conservation biologist and member of the IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group. My Inspire4Nature project aims to strengthen understanding and application of the IUCN Red list Index (RLI) as a policy-relevant indicator of progress towards international biodiversity commitments, in particular leading to new recommendations at the national level. It will first involve a comprehensive Red List reassessment of all European freshwater fish species, followed by calculation of the first RLI for all European vertebrates plus analysis of how the index varies in its robustness when downscaled from global to national and regional levels, and how its power to detect change is influenced by the taxonomic groups, number and types of species included. I previously studied at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (BSc Environmental Sciences) and the University of Barcelona, Spain (MSc Biodiversity).

PhD project: Understanding impacts of scale on the Red List Index: a case study on European vertebrates

IUCN Red List Index of species survival for bird, mammal and amphibian species in Madagascar. Source: Randrianasolo et al. unpublished data.

The Red List Index (RLI) (Butchart et al. 2007; Bubb et al. 2009) has been adopted as an official indicator of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Targets. These are country-led processes, and so the RLI must be applicable at national levels as well as the global level. Moreover, because the RLI has a fairly low temporal resolution, and because some taxonomic groups encompass high proportions of Data Deficient species, it needs to be applicable across multiple taxonomic groups to deliver sample sizes with sufficient power to detect change. The calculation of RLIs requires repeat Red List assessments for all species within given taxonomic groups. All bird species have been assessed seven times, all mammals three times, and all amphibians and reptiles twice. All European species of freshwater fish have been assessed once (Freyhof & Brooks 2011). As most threatened vertebrates in Europe are freshwater fish, the contribution of this taxonomic group to the RLI is essential. This project will thus support a Red List re-assessment of all European freshwater fishes, as data inputs towards understanding how the RLI scales between geographic, habitat-specific and taxonomic scales.

The project will work with MFN, members of the IUCN Species Survival Commissions Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, and the IUCN Global Species Programme to draft re-assessments of the extinction risk of all European freshwater fishes for the IUCN Red List. As part of this effort, in March 2019 all project early-stage researchers will undertake Inspire4Nature’s third training session (T3) in application of the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria (IUCN 2012), followed by a review workshop of the draft fish species Red List assessments to complete the second comprehensive assessment of European freshwater fishes. The project will then combine this data set on fishes with the existing Red List assessments for all European birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians to enable calculation of the first RLI for all European vertebrate species. This represents one of the project’s deliverables (D3.1).

The project will then use this comprehensive data set for all European vertebrates to evaluate different approaches for calculating RLIs at national scales for European countries (for example: comparing the global RLI downscaled to the European level with a regional RLI; comparing the global and European RLIs downscaled to the level of individual European countries with national RLIs for those countries), leading to new recommendations for downscaling the RLI from global to regional to national levels. RLIs will also be calculated for a range of taxonomic groupings to evaluate implications on the RLIs derived. Finally, the influence of species sample sizes will be evaluated in relation to the robustness of the derived RLIs. Implications from these calculations will be used to better understand use of the RLI for informing progress towards the CBD Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Sustainable Development Goals, and EU Biodiversity Strategy.


Freyhof, J., Bergner, L. & Ford, M. (2020) Threatened Freshwater Fishes of the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot: Distribution, extinction risk and the impact of hydropower. EuroNatur and RiverWatch. i-viii + 1-348.

Related references

  • Bubb, P.J., Butchart, S.H.M., Collen, B., Dublin, H., Kapos, V., Pollock, C., Stuart, S. N., Vié, J-C. (2009). IUCN Red List Index - Guidance for National and Regional Use. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
  • Butchart et al. (2007) Improvements to the Red List Index. PLoS One, 2, e140.
  • Freyhof, J. and Brooks, E. (2011). European Red List of Freshwater Fishes. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
  • Hoffmann, M., Hilton-Taylor, C., Angulo, A., et al. (2010) The impact of conservation on the status of the world’s vertebrates. Science, 330, 1503–1509.
  • (2012). IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. Second edition. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN. iv + 32pp. IUCN Species Survival Commission, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  • Young, R.P., Hudson, M.A., Terry, A.M.R., Jones, C.G., Lewis, R.E., Tatayah, V., Zuël, N., & Butchart, S.H.M. (2014) Accounting for conservation: Using the IUCN Red List Index to evaluate the impact of a conservation organization. Biological Conservation, 180, 84–96.

Academic Host

Museum für Naturkunde, MFN
Berlin, Germany
Jörg Freyhof
Mark-Oliver Rödel


International Union for Conservation of Nature
Cambridge, UK
Will Darwall
Thomas Brooks Supervisor