8.7m species, 90% ‘still undiscovered’

2011-08-24 07:26

Bangkok – Roughly 90% of the species in the world have yet to be discovered, described and catalogued by humans, according to a study.

The study by Canadian researchers estimated the number of species at 8.7 million.

The scientists developed a new method of estimating the global total, and published their findings in the journal PLoS Biology.

“We are astonishingly ignorant about how many species are alive on earth today, and even more ignorant about how many we can lose yet still maintain ecosystem services that humanity ultimately depends upon,” Oxford University zoologist Robert May wrote in a separate paper for the same edition.

Previous estimates of the world’s species ranged from three million to 100 million.

The study, conducted at Dalhousie University of Halifax, estimated that 86% of all terrestrial species and 91% of all marine species have yet to be catalogued.

It estimated about 7.8 million species of animals, 298 000 of plants, 611 000 of fungi, 36 400 of protozoa and 27 500 of chromists – which include algae and water moulds.

It said only about 7% of fungi and 12% of animals have been identified, compared with 72% of plants.

The methodology excluded microorganisms and viruses, and carried a standard error margin of 1.3 million. The study estimated there are 2.2 million marine species, with the rest being terrestrial.

Marine biologist Boris Worm, one of the co-authors, said Earth is a system with millions of vital parts, many of which regularly disappear.

“If you think of the planet as a life-support system for our species, you want to look at how complex that life-support system is,” he said.

“We’re tinkering with that machine because we’re throwing out parts all the time.”

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