For conservation biology, there are several research thrusts that are of critical importance, and one of these is to find predictors of species' extinction risk. Oft-cited is the particular susceptibility of large-bodied organisms, with their large ranges and slow reproductive rates. But there should be other predictors too, especially within larger mammals. In a forthcoming paper in Global Ecology and Biogeography, Safi and Pettorelli use just a few variables to predict extinction risk in carnivores.
They quantified species extinction risk according to the IUCN risk assessments and asked how well three attributes explained variation in extinction risk. They quantified the environmental characteristics of the species' ranges (temperature, precipitation, etc.), spatial distances between species' ranges and the phylogenetic distances among species. Overall, spatial and phylogenetic distances were good predictors of threat status -generally predicting between 21-70% of variation in extinction risk, whereas the environmental variables were weaker predictors. Full models incorporating all three variables (and accounting for their covariance), were able to explain upwards of 96% of the variation in extinction risk!
Although these variables do not represent causal mechanisms of extinction risk -rather they are correlative, they do provide conservation biologists with a rapid assessment tool to evaluate extinction risk. These tools should be particularly important in cases were population data are lacking and immediate pragmatic decisions are required.
Safi, K., & Pettorelli, N. (2010). Phylogenetic, spatial and environmental components of extinction risk in carnivores Global Ecology and Biogeography DOI: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00523.x