NEW IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology

Landmannalaugar, Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland by Joshua Sortino (Unsplash)

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Last month the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published its Global Typology of Ecosystems, a comprehensive system for classifying and mapping all ecosystems on Earth.

Our planet has an incredible wealth of ecosystems, all with specific traits and qualities. The new IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology sorts these ecosystems on both their functions and composition. It is the first standardised and spatially explicit ecosystem typology of its kind. IUCN Director General Dr Bruno Oberle hopes that it will provide the framework to effectively track goals that will arise out of the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Strategy.

Through grouping ecosystems according to their characteristics and functions, it will be possible to find patterns that can help with the sustainable management of these systems worldwide.

By sharing research and management experiences about ecosystem functions, dependencies and responses to management, the typology can facilitate knowledge transfer that improves management outcomes for both biodiversity and ecosystem services.

How it works

108 major ecosystems are defined within the typology, both natural, wild ecosystems, but also those shaped by humans, like agricultural lands. The typology describes the processes that sustain them, as well as their global distributions. This will help to map out common risks that similar ecosystems face globally and what is needed to protect them. Additionally, it can assist identifying which types of ecosystems are most critical to biodiversity conservation and the supply of ecosystem services.

The system is hierarchical, containing 6 levels. The first 3 levels – Realm, Biome & Ecosystem Functional Group – represent the functional features of ecosystems and are explained in the report, the other 3 – biogeographic ecotypes, global ecosystem types and subglobal ecosystem types – represent compositional features and are often already in use and incorporated into policy infrastructure at national levels and can be linked to these upper levels.

The first level divides the ecosystems in 5 global realms:

  • terrestrial;
  • subterranean;
  • freshwater (including saline water bodies on land);
  • marine;
  • the atmosphere.

At Level 2, the typology defines 25 biomes – components of a core or transitional realm united by one or a few common major ecological drivers that regulate major ecological functions.

Level 3 of the typology includes 108 Ecosystem Functional Groups that encompass related ecosystems within a biome that share common ecological drivers and dependencies, and thus exhibit merging biotic traits.

An interactive website

Additionally to the launch of the report, IUCN launched a fully interactive website. Here, users can discover all the different types of ecosystems and explore the ecosystem typology. Additionally, users can select a specific area to analyse functional groups and so identify, for example per country, which groups can be found where.

Apart from mapping out different ecosystems world wide and looking at their management, the system also aims to assist the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA). This initiative of the United Nations sets out to measure the contribution of the environment to the economy through so-called ecosystem services, and the impact of the economy on the environment. The European Union also endeavors to take into account ecosystem services and nature’s contribution when assessing the economy.