Sunday, 7 April 2013

How many species are yet to be discovered?

HOW MANY species in the world are yet to be discovered? This is a question which scientists and environmentalist frequently ponder.  The latest estimate falls between two and fifty million yet to be discovered species, writes Tim Sandle.

A group of scientists have published a paper considering the number of species on the planet which are yet to be discovered, according to e! Science News. For their review they excluded microscopic life forms like bacteria, but included everything large enough to be discerned by the human eye, including insects, fungi, nematodes, and deep-sea organisms.

The scientists have put the estimated number of undiscovered species (that is, species which have not been classified) at between two and fifty million. The reason why this ranges so widely is because the range of insects and fungi in the natural world, to pick two examples, are almost impossible to estimate reliably. Whist scientists catalog many new insects each year, finding new species of mammals and birds is far less common.

The report by the scientists suggests that it is quite likely that a full inventory of all of the species on the planet will prove to be impossible. This relates particularly to creatures which live in the deep-sea, high up in mountains, or which live beneath the ground.

However, the science team consider that “Novel techniques, such as DNA barcoding, new databases, and crowd-sourcing, could greatly accelerate the rate of species discovery.”

In assessing the biodiversity, the scientific team speculate that the possibility remains that many undiscovered species may offer benefits for people, such as in the development of medicines.

The research was an international collaboration, involving scientists based in Singapore Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. The findings were published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Posted by Tim Sandle