The race to discover the world's biodiversity ... before it disappears
Science described 16,969 new species in 2006 -- an amazing 46 species per day -- according to the first annual State of Observed Species (SOS) report released last week by the International Institute for Species Exploration.
Meanwhile, according to one recent estimate from the United Nation's World Conservation Union, the world is losing species to extinction at the shocking rate of three species every hour.
Just looking at those two numbers suggests that we are losing species to extinction one and a half times faster than we can discover them. Ouch.
In conjunction with the SOS report, the Institute for Species Exploration also named the "top 10" species discovered in 2007. One of those was a dinosaur, one is an extinct frog (whose only known specimen sat on a shelf for nearly 150 years before it was named), and at least one is already threatened by habitat loss.
Another one of these "top 10" -- the Michelin Man™ plant (Tecticornia bibenda) -- offers an illustration about how many species still need to be identified, and, oddly enough, how the destruction of their habitats is inspiring their discovery:
There is a huge backlog of new plant species awaiting description, ironically generated by environmental impact surveys for mining companies. It is one of 298 new plant species described from Western Australia in 2007.
Many scientists believe that the Earth holds an estimated 10 million species. Only 1.8 million have currently been described by science.
According to the SOS report, "There are many reasons that scientists explore earth's species: to discover and document the results of evolutionary history; to learn the species that comprise the ecosystems upon which life on our planet depends; to establish baseline knowledge of the planet's species and their distributions so that non-native pests and vectors of disease may be detected; to inform and enable conservation biology and resource management."
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