While scientists have cataloged 1.3 million species, the total number of existing species has remained a mystery. The issue is that taxonomy takes time to correctly catalog each species that is discovered, as well as the fact that we simply haven’t encountered and cataloged all species, particularly in our oceans. Researchers have now worked to remove the mystery by carefully crafting a methodology that applies mathematical probability to the orders of family, genus, etc.
The close look at the taxonomic pyramid had the researchers going back to discoveries since 1750 to come up with the rate of discoveries. After their formula was fine tuned, they then tested it against the record to see if their estimates would be accurate against the record, and they found that they could make good predictions.
The research team that came up with the findings is an interesting cross-disciplinary team that is a combination of biologists, geographers, a researcher from the UN World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and Microsoft Research.
The paper, published in the journal Public Library of Science Biology, has been drawing strong reactions from experts. Some feel encouraged by the diversity figure, others feel that it’s a human centric calculation, and still others see it as a call to action to stop biodiversity losses due to global change and human pressures. The level of controversy that these findings have generated have started an important public discourse on the subject of biodiversity and human impacts.
Here are some interesting takes on the research:
- Counting the Earth’s Living Riches is a Landmark Moment, The Guardian
- How Many Species on Earth? It’s Tricky, The New York Times
- Why Species Matter, BBC News