Extinction fears 'alarmist'

2013-01-25 11:39

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Wellington – Fears that most of the Earth's species will become extinct before they have even been discovered by science are "alarmist", according to an international study released on Friday.

Researchers set out to examine estimates that there were 100 million species globally and they were dying out at a rate of 5% every decade, meaning many would disappear before scientists had a chance to discover them.

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers from New Zealand, Australia and Britain said the estimates were based on a massive over-estimation of how many species were still unknown.


They said about 1.5 million species of animals and plants had already been catalogued and statistical modelling showed the total number in existence was closer to five million than 100 million.

The study, released Friday, also put extinction rates at less than one percent a decade, one-fifth the level of previous estimates.

"Our findings are potentially good news for the conservation of global biodiversity," lead author Mark Costello from the University of Auckland said.

"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. Our work suggests this is far from the case."

He said the research raised the prospect that all of Earth's species could be identified within the next 50 years, particularly since the number of taxonomists, scientists who describe new species, was increasing.

"Naming a species gives formal recognition to its existence, making its conservation far easier," Costello said.

The paper conceded that Earth was in the midst of a "human-caused mass extinction phase" but reached more optimistic conclusions on biodiversity than other researchers, such as those at the California Academy of Sciences.

In 2011, the academy said: "Despite intensive efforts to document life on Earth, scientists estimate that more than 90% of the species on this planet have yet to be discovered.

"In the face of large-scale habitat loss and degradation, many of these species are disappearing before we even know they exist."

Costello and his colleagues said any meeting of biologists or conservationists was "hardly complete" without similar worries being raised.

But they said the development of science in biological hotspots such as Asia and South America meant more researchers than ever were working to identify new species.

"Some people despair that most species will go extinct before they are discovered," the study said.

"However, such worries result from over-estimates of how many species may exist, beliefs that the expertise to describe species is decreasing and alarmist estimates of extinction rates."

Read more on:    animals  |  plants

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.