Threatened species are animals and plants that are at risk of global or regional extinction, often as a result of human activity. The Norwegian Red List is the official overview of threatened species in Norway. The IUCN Red List is the global equivalent.
Almost 2400 threatened species in Norway
The most recent edition of the Norwegian Red List (2015) includes 4438 species, 2355 of which are considered to be threatened (critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable), while 1235 are listed as near threatened. These figures are for mainland Norway and the surrounding seas.
The most seriously threatened species are classified as critically endangered, and include the Arctic fox, wolf and common guillemot. Separate assessments have been made for freshwater fish, birds, lichens, vascular plants and mammals in Svalbard.
Many changes have been made since the previous edition of the Norwegian Red List was published in 2010. This is mainly because the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre has compiled a great deal of new information on Norwegian species, rather than because there have been real changes in populations. A number of species have been transferred to different categories.
Land-use change the greatest threat
Changes in land use are the greatest threat to biodiversity today, and therefore the most important reason why species are red-listed. In Norway, land-use change is considered to be a threat to 90 % of all critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species (threatened species).
Other important factors are overgrowing of open landscape when traditional grazing and haymaking is discontinued (29 % of threatened species) and commercial forestry (41 %). Land-use change that is not related to farming or forestry activities (for example construction activities) pose a threat to 56 % of species in these three threat categories.
The Norwegian Red List also categorises species according to the main habitats where they are found. Mountain species show the most negative trend; 70 % of mountain species that have been transferred to a different category in 2015 are considered to be at greater risk of extinction than before, and are now in a higher threat category. Climate change is probably the most important explanation for this. A relatively large proportion (65 %) of the wetland species whose classification has been adjusted have also been moved to a higher category.
More species are associated with forests than with any other main habitat in Norway, so it is not surprising that forests also account for the largest proportion of red-listed species. Almost half (48 %) of all threatened species are found in forest, either exclusively or both in forest and in other habitats. The largest numbers of threatened species in forest habitats are in the species groups fungi (353 species), beetles (230 species), true flies or Diptera (128 species) and lichens (124 species). Many of the threatened species in forest are specialists, for example found on dead wood, large deciduous broad-leaved trees, burnt areas left by forest fires, or calcareous soils. A large proportion of the red-listed species found in forests are associated with rich broad-leaved forest, even though this only makes up 1 % of Norway's productive forest area.
About 24 % of the species listed as threatened are associated with semi-natural habitats, mainly traditional meadow and pasture. These have declined greatly in extent over the past hundred years, and now only make up a small proportion of the total area of Norway.
Only 2 % of the marine species assessed have been classified as threatened. Most of them are algae, fish and mammals. However, the low proportion of threatened species in the marine environment is partly explained by a lack of information. This is also reflected in the large number of species placed in the category data deficient (DD) – 71 % of the red-listed marine species.
Protection, action plans, mapping and monitoring
Norway is a party to several international agreements that deal with the protection of threatened species. The most important of these are the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Bern Convention, the Bonn Convention, the CITES Convention and the Ramsar Convention.
What is done to safeguard threatened species?
- One important way of protecting species is to protect their habitats. Establishing protected areas can reduce habitat disturbance and human activities that are a threat to certain species.
- Species can also be protected directly. In Norway, terrestrial vertebrates (mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles) are protected unless specifically defined as game species. Some freshwater species are also specifically protected, and there are regulations making it illegal to pick or harvest 70 species of plants and a few moss and invertebrate species. Most of these species are red-listed.
- The Nature Diversity Act has introduced the designations “priority species” and “selected habitat”, leaving it to the Government to decide which species and habitats are to be included.
- The Norwegian Environment Agency draws up action plans in order to safeguard some of the most threatened species. The county governors’ offices are responsible for proposing action plans and putting them into practice.
- The Norwegian Red List provides important information on many species and is a valuable tool in land use planning.
Mapping and monitoring
In Norway, several projects have been launched to map endangered species. A number of animal populations, for example large carnivores, golden eagles and seabirds, have been systematically monitored for several decades. Several of the endangered species for which action plans have been drawn up, are included in monitoring programmes.
Mapping and monitoring provide important information on species and habitats that the authorities can use in species management and land use planning.