Editorial: BioPark on cutting edge of conservation research

Clayton Meredith, an International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List assessor, examines an Ephedraceae plant at the BioPark Botanic Garden. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s not glamorous, but the painstaking, behind-the scenes work by two new researchers at the ABQ BioPark has the potential to change the world.

The BioPark has recently hired two “Red List” assessors, catapulting the institution to the leading edge of conservation research. Best of all, the $150,000 tab for the project is being covered by the New Mexico BioPark Society, the nonprofit support organization for the Zoo, Botanic Garden, Aquarium and Tingley Beach.

The Red List is a database that catalogues the extinction threat faced by the world’s plants, animals and fungi.

It is published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which is the global authority on nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. So far, 96,000 species have been assessed, and more than 23,000 of them are threatened with extinction.

Albuquerque’s BioPark is the first facility in the United States to become a hub for the IUCN, and the first facility anywhere in the world to have two Red List assessors.

One of the ABQ BioPark’s new hires, Clayton Meredith, a UNM graduate who is now pursuing his doctorate, is studying medicinal plants from around the world, starting with North American species.

The other Red List officer hired by the BioPark, Tim Lyons, of Miami, is assessing freshwater fish, with a focus on fish from the southern United States and Mexico.

The IUCN relies on a network of 15,000 nature experts and researchers from around the world who work through a global hub of assessors who compile and analyze data.

Kira Mileham, director of strategic partnerships for the IUCN, notes that each assessment is classified as a scientific, peer-reviewed journal article, “which in the world of academia is academic currency.” And one of the benefits to the BioPark is that it “will very quickly become a credible scientific organization with high science paper outputs.”

But beyond raising the BioPark’s stature in the academic community, these assessments will help guide policy decisions and conservation efforts toward species truly in danger of becoming extinct.

Mileham said the goal is for Meredith and Lyons to become trainers, teaching others from across the country how to do assessments. Then those newly trained people can, in turn, train others, exponentially increasing the number of assessors over the next 10 to 12 years.

Mileham says the assessment model begins with evaluating the species most in need of help, then pulling together the different stakeholders to figure out what action is needed to save them, and then connecting with organizations and donors to make sure that action happens.

This new partnership should be a source of pride for Albuquerque and all of its residents because, in the words of BioPark Society executive director Julie Miller Rugg, “The BioPark is not just about holding animals, plants and fish; we also need to be about making a difference in the world and having a conservation impact. It’s pretty exciting to be a leader.”

Exciting, indeed, and Albuquerque has that opportunity because of the BioPark Society and its generous donors.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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