Winner: Professor David Keith and the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Team, University of New South Wales

A global standard for environmental threats from coral reef to desert dunes

How can environmental threats to coral reefs be compared with the threats to the plant-life of arid deserts? How can the effect of river flow on wetland health be compared with damage caused by introduced animals?

The answer seems to lie in a new system developed by University of New South Wales biologist Professor David Keith.

Working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Professor Keith and his team have established a single global standard for assessing environmentally threatened ecosystems.

For their establishment of a universal standard for assessing ecosystem risks, Professor Keith and the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Team have been awarded the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

Previous studies have established extinction risks in particular ecological communities, but the difficulty of comparing such risks across different ecosystems has made it more difficult to persuade politicians or public of the need for policy change.

“The Red List of Ecosystems is a powerful tool for scientists and policy-makers around the globe,” Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum said. “International bodies are already looking at incorporating this system into their risk assessments,” she said.

Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is the nation’s first museum and one of its foremost scientific research, educational and cultural institutions. The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence in Research and Innovation, Leadership, Science Communication and Journalism, and School Science.

The other finalists were:

  • Associate Professor David Beattie (University of South Australia) for the development of environmentally safe flotation chemicals for the minerals industry.
  • The Marine Debris Team (CSIRO), comprising Dr Denise Hardesty, Matt Lansdell, TJ Lawson, Dr David Milton, Tonya van der Velde and Dr Chris Wilcox. The Marine Debris Team has reduced the threat to marine ecosystems of plastic pollution through a clever combination of citizen science and interdisciplinary research.

Watch the video.