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Proceedings of the Mongolian Biodiversity Databank Workshop: Assessing the Conservation Status of Mongolian Mammals and Fishes: I - Results and Outputs of the Workshop

Emma L. Clark1, Joanne F. Ocock1, Sarah R. B. King2 and Jonathan E.M. Baillie1*,
1Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4RY, England. 2Steppe Forward Programme,
Biology Faculty, National University Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar 210646, Mongolia.

Abstract

The Mongolian Biodiversity Databank Workshop was held at the National University of Mongolia and Hustai National Park from 31st October to 4th November, 2005. Participants assessed the conservation status of all Mongolian mammals and fishes using the IUCN Categories and Criteria, and also met the other main objectives of the workshop, including: creating a Biodiversity Databank, revising species lists and maps for Mongolian mammals and fishes, and developing Summary Conservation Action Plans for a number of threatened or commercially important species. This article includes information about the IUCN Categories and Criteria used to assess Mongolian mammals and fish and these outputs. The Biodiversity Databank holds baseline data on the ecology, distribution, threats, conservation measures, and conservation status for all Mongolian mammals and fishes. Revised species lists have been agreed upon for the Biodiversity Databank project including 128 native species of mammals and 64 native species of fish. Digital maps have been produced for all mammals and fish, where data exists. Results of the workshop should provide baseline information for conservation of Mongolian biodiversity and provide resources for researchers.

Introduction

Mongolia’s economy and landscape have undergone rapid changes since the early 1990s, but the impact of these changes on the conservation status of Mongolian wildlife has been poorly documented. From October 31st to November 4th 2005, over 70 of the world’s leading Mongolian biodiversity specialists participated in the first Mongolian Biodiversity Databank Workshop to identify the conservation status of Mongolian species, and thus form a baseline from which future trends can be measured. Included in the Workshop was a small expert working group focussing on Mongolian fishes. The main objectives of the meeting were to develop an agreed species list for Mongolian mammals and fishes, populate the Mongolian Biodiversity Databank, develop detailed distribution maps for all Mongolian mammals and fish, assess the conservation status of Mongolian mammals and fishes and identify measures necessary to conserve species of concern. This paper highlights the main findings of the workshop, with more detailed discussion of the status of and threats to Mongolian mammals and fish presented in further papers. The project was funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) (regionally represented by the Steppe Forward Programme) and the National University of Mongolia, in collaboration with the Mongolian Academy of Science, the Ministry for Nature and the Environment, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as well as many other regional and international organisations. Extensive research and data collection before and during the workshop, and an ongoing review process following the workshop has resulted in five main products. These are:
1. A species list of Mongolian mammals and fishes, in line with current nomenclature. Historically, there has been poor communication between Russian, Chinese, Mongolian and Western scientists, resulting in little agreement over accepted Mongolian species lists for most taxonomic groups. The workshop was an ideal forum to consolidate species lists, apply the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, and develop an agreed list of all mammals and fishes in Mongolia.
2. The Mongolian Biodiversity Databank. This stores information on taxonomy, ecology, geographic distribution, population size, threats, utilisation, conservation measures and conservation status. The databank is held at the National University of Mongolia and is publicly available.
3. Up-dated, digitised and peer-reviewed distribution maps of Mongolian mammals and fishes. During the workshop, experts developed the most up to date and accurate distribution maps of all Mongolian mammals and fishes. However, most species remain poorly studied and we envision that as more research is conducted, substantial changes will occur, which we encourage. These maps can be used to display the distribution of specific species or combined together to highlight areas with high species richness or areas with high numbers of threatened species. Such maps are important for communicating the state of Mongolian biodiversity and for setting priorities.
4. A Red List for Mongolian mammals and for Mongolian fishes. Mongolian mammals and fishes were assessed with the IUCN Categories and Criteria for the first time. These Categories and Criteria have been designed to evaluate a species’ risk of extinction. This system is more transparent and objective than previous approaches as it is based on quantitative criteria and clear justification for each conservation assessment is given.
5. Summary Conservation Action Plans for species of particular conservation concern. At the workshop, participants developed action plans intended to highlight species that are of particular concern, and alert policy-makers and conservationists to actions that need to be taken if these species are to maintain viable populations into the future. On the 31st October, at the National University of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar, the aims of the workshop were presented and instruction was given on the application of the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. The following three days of the workshop were held at Hustai National Park, south-west of Ulaanbaatar, where further training took place and the main objectives of the workshop were carried out. The final day of the workshop was held again at the National University of Mongolia where the major findings were presented to a broad audience of policy makers, journalists, scientists, conservationists and students. The findings presented here and in the subsequent papers are the results of the efforts of specialists who participated in the workshop, many of whom have dedicated their lives to studying Mongolian biodiversity. The results are based on data from the scientific literature, reports of governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), data from museums and expert knowledge. The Steering Committee, comprised of representatives from NGOs, academic institutions and government, provided support and guidance throughout the implementation of the project. It is the intention of the Committee and ZSL to continue to develop the Mongolian Biodiversity Databank with the next goal being the conservation assessment of all Mongolian vertebrates. The Red Lists for Mongolian mammals and fishes Red Lists, such as the 1997 Mongolian Red Book of threatened species (Shiirevdamba, et al., 1997), have been in existence for nearly 60 years (Baillie & Groombridge, 1996). However, only recently have a set of quantitative criteria been developed by the IUCN to help standardise the way in which species are classified according to their extinction risk (Mace, 1994). The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria were officially adopted in 1994 and revised in 2001 (IUCN, 2001). They are now recognised as an international standard and used by countries and organisations throughout the world. The Red Lists compiled at the Mongolian Biodiversity Workshop use the new IUCN Regional Categories and Criteria (IUCN, 2003). The Red Lists only include wild populations inside their native range or populations resulting from benign introductions. The information in these articles is presented and discussed at the species level. Thus distinct subspecies within Mongolia, such as Saiga tatarica monogolica, an important Mongolian subspecies of the saiga antelope, is referred to as Saiga tatarica. The only taxa that are referred to at the subspecies level are the Gobi bear (Ursus arctos gobiensis), the Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus ferus) and Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii). The Gobi bear was included because the subspecies was identified as an extremely important taxa for Mongolian conservation and was assessed at the subspecies level. The Bactrian camel is referred to as Camelus bactrianus ferus rather than Camelus bactrianus to make it clear that only the wild population is being considered. Recent taxonomic evidence (Oakenfull et al., 2000) suggests that although they are genetically distinct, the domestic horse and Przewalski’s horse are both subspecies of Equus ferus (Boddaert, 1785). Therefore in this article, Przewalski’s horse will be referred to as Equus ferus przewalskii, indicating only wild horses are included in the assessment. Although the main purpose of the list is to highlight species that are threatened with extinction, non-threatened native species are also listed. This has been done to provide insight into the overall status of Mongolia’s biodiversity. The lists in this article are a summary of the Mongolian mammal and fish Red Lists still under review and which will be published later this year. The lists contain regional Red List assessments (assessments of the population within Mongolia) for each species of mammal and fish found in Mongolia. All mammal species and several fish species also have a global conservation status listed (assessments of the global population). The global assessments are primarily taken from the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN, 2004). If the global assessment was changed at the workshop the assessment is denoted with an asterisk (*). Justification for these changes is given in the Mongolian Biodiversity Databank. The application of the IUCN Regional Categories and Criteria The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria were developed to assess the global extinction risk of species. Applying this approach to species at a subglobal level (e.g. the country) involves addressing a number of issues not encountered when conducting assessments on a global scale. For example, a regional assessment has to take into account species that migrate between countries, or populations that are restricted to one country but dependant on immigration from another. The categories and criteria for regional application are adjusted to account for these differences. Two new definitions are included in the categories at the regional level. These are Regionally Extinct (RE) and Not Applicable (NA) (Table 1). RE is for species that remain extant, but are no longer found within the specific region. NA is for species that are deemed ineligible for assessment at a regional level because they have a marginal distribution in the region (Table 1). The regional application of the categories is a two-step process. The first step is to apply the Red List criteria to the regional population using regional data, but as if it were the global population. In some cases this may produce an inaccurate estimate of the species threatened status, because the risk of extinction of the regional population may be influenced by a larger global population. To address this issue, the regional guidelines have a second step that allows the assessment to be adjusted. If a species is threatened regionally, but immigration from outside the region may occur and constitute a ‘rescue’ effect, this decreases the risk of extinction and the assessment can be downgraded accordingly. An assessment can be upgraded if the regional population is declining or is a ‘sink’ population, with no possibility of ‘rescue’ from outside. When an assessment has been up or downgraded, it is denoted with a double asterisk (**). If there is no information on the effects of populations surrounding the region no alteration is made (for further details see IUCN, 2003). This provides the species with a Red List assessment that better reflects the risk of extinction within the defined region. At the workshop, none of the mammal or fish regional assessments were altered, as there was little evidence for significant immigration and it was not known whether a ‘rescue’ effect from outside populations was likely.

Conclusion

The Mongolian Biodiversity Databank workshop was a success, with over 70 specialists attending who applied their expertise to the problems facing Mongolian mammals and fish. All expected outputs are being produced: publications on threats facing Mongolian mammals and fishes are published in this journal, and the Red Books of Mongolian mammals and fishes and Summary Conservation Action Plans of some animals will be published later this year. A further benefit of the workshop was production of the Mongolian Biodiversity Databank, as well as updated maps and species lists for mammals and fishes. The information gathered in the workshop will provide a baseline from which all future conservation of Mongolian mammals and fish can be measured. The Databank itself, together with the library being formed, will provide an invaluable tool for future researchers.

Acknowledgement

We are grateful to the World Bank for providing the resources for this project and for all who attended and contributed to the workshop. The authors would like to thank those who have reviewed this article at various stages, Maurice Kottelat, Michael Stubbe, David Mallon, David Tinnin, Ben Collen, Renata Kowalik, Chris Sandbrook and Ken Ocock, and Wes Sechrest from the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment for providing the initial mammal distribution maps. We would also like to give thanks to J. Munkhbat for his extensive involvement in the collection and verification of the data in the article and further reviews, and to Sh. Oyunchimeg for her dedication in compiling information, sourcing reviewers and logistical skills. The other staff of the Steppe Forward Programme, J. Jargal and Lucy Simpson, were instrumental as workshop group leaders. Thanks are also given to the National University of Mongolia and the Taxon Steering Committee for their guidance and support, in particular Prof R. Samiya, Prof. S. Dulamtseren and N. Batsaikhan.

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