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201326Jan20:59

Good news: Planet Earth com­prises less species than pre­vi­ously thought

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 26 Jan­u­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 27 Jan­u­ary 2013
Archived
worldmapClaims that most species will go extinct before they can be dis­cov­ered have been debunked in the Jan­u­ary 25 issue of Sci­ence, by researchers from The Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land, Grif­fith Uni­ver­sity, and the Uni­ver­sity of Oxford.

The sci­en­tists show that the claims are based on two key mis­con­cep­tions: an over-​estimation of how many species may exist on Earth, and the erro­neous belief that the num­ber of tax­on­o­mists (peo­ple who describe and iden­tify species) is declin­ing.

Our find­ings are poten­tially good news for the con­ser­va­tion of global biodiversity
Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor Mark Costello, lead author, The Uni­ver­sity of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Lab­o­ra­tory »


The authors pro­pose that there are 5 +/​-​3 mil­lion species on Earth – far fewer than has been widely believed – of which 1.5 mil­lion species have been named. This re-​affirms pre­vi­ous esti­mates by the three authors, which spanned the upper and lower reaches of this range.

Over-​estimates of the num­ber of species on Earth are self-​defeating because they can make attempts to dis­cover and con­serve bio­di­ver­sity appear to be hope­less,” says Dr Costello. “Our work sug­gests that this is far from the case. We believe that with just a mod­est increase in effort in tax­on­omy and con­ser­va­tion, most species could be dis­cov­ered and pro­tected from extinc­tion.”

The authors con­clude that there have never been so many peo­ple describ­ing new species – includ­ing pro­fes­sion­als and ama­teurs, the num­ber may near 50,000. And the com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to grow, in large part due to the devel­op­ment of sci­ence in Asia and South Amer­ica, regions that are rich in bio­di­ver­sity and where many new species are being dis­cov­ered.

While the research sug­gests that species are more likely to be dis­cov­ered than to go extinct, the authors do not under­play the seri­ous­ness of the threats to species and their habi­tats. The com­bi­na­tion of over-​hunting, habi­tat loss and cli­mate change, now occur­ring at both local and global scales, mean that extinc­tion rates could increase very rapidly in the future.

Dr Costello says that the dis­cov­ery and nam­ing of species is crit­i­cal to their con­ser­va­tion. Nam­ing a species gives for­mal recog­ni­tion to its exis­tence, mak­ing its con­ser­va­tion far eas­ier. The process of dis­cov­ery, includ­ing explo­ration of remote and less stud­ied habi­tats, also pro­vides the evi­dence to under­pin con­ser­va­tion efforts [like the work done by the Senck­en­berg Insti­tutes — read more, Moos].

Amongst the authors’ rec­om­men­da­tions to increase the rate of species dis­cov­ery are: get­ting more peo­ple involved in the work; inter­na­tional coor­di­na­tion of explo­ration and spec­i­men col­lec­tions; the devel­op­ment of freely avail­able online data­bases; and finan­cial sup­port from gov­ern­ments and other organ­i­sa­tions for these efforts.


(Source: The Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land media release, 25.01.2013)
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Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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