What Exactly Is an Endangered Species? An Analysis of the U.S. Endangered Species List: 1985–1991

David S. Wilcove, Margaret McMillan, Keith C. Winston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Critics of the Endangered Species Act have asserted that is protects an inordinate number of subspecies and populations, in addition to full species, and that the scientific rationale for listing decisions is absent or weak. We reviewed all U.S. plants and animals proposed for listing or added to the endangered species list from 1985 through 1991 to determine the relative proportion of species, subspecies, and populations, and their rarity at time of listing. Approximately 80% of the taxa added to the list were full species, 18% were subspecies, and 2% were distinct populations segments of more widespread vertebrate species. The proportion of subspecies and populations was considerably higher among birds and mammals than among other groups. The median populations size at time of listing for vertebrate animals was 1075 individuals; for invertebrate animals it was 999. The median population size of a plant at time of listing was less than 120 individuals. Earlier listing of declining species could significantly improve the likelihood of successful recovery, and it would provide land managers and private citizens with more options for protecting vanishing plants and animals at less social or economic cost.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-93
Number of pages7
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1993
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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