Assessing the extinction risk of insular, understudied marine species

Elin A Thomas, Monika Böhm, Caroline Pollock, Chong Chen, Mary Seddon, Julia D Sigwart

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Hydrothermal vents are rare deep-sea oases that house faunal assemblages with a similar density of life as coral reefs. Only approximately 600 of these hotspots are known worldwide, most only one-third of a football field in size. With advancing development of the deep-sea mining industry, there is an urgent need to protect these unique, insular ecosystems and their specialist endemic faunas. We applied the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List criteria to assess the extinction risk of vent-endemic molluscs with varying exposure to potential deep-sea mining. We assessed 31 species from 3 key areas under different regulatory frameworks in the Indian, West Pacific, and Southern Oceans. Three vent mollusc species were also examined as case studies of different threat contexts (protected or not from potential mining) to explore the interaction of local regulatory frameworks and IUCN Red List category assignment. We found that these assessments were robust even when there was some uncertainty in the total range of individual species, allowing assessment of species that have only recently been named and described. For vent-endemic species, regulatory changes to area-based management can have a greater impact on IUCN Red List assessment outcomes than incorporating additional data about species distributions. Our approach revealed the most useful IUCN Red List criteria for vent-endemic species: criteria B and D2. This approach, combining regulatory framework and distribution, has the potential to rapidly gauge assessment outcomes for species in insular systems worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
JournalConservation Biology
Early online date12 Nov 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 12 Nov 2021


  • threatened species
  • marine
  • IUCN
  • deep-sea mining
  • hydrothermal vents
  • molluscs


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