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Surprising Science

8.7 Million Species on Earth, 80 Percent Undiscovered

There are 8.7 million species on our planet, give or take 1.3 million, says the latest biodiversity estimate which is based on a new and more accurate method of prediction. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A joint American-Canadian effort at ecological research, having identified different scaling patterns among the different levels of the taxonomic classification system, estimates there to be 8.7 million species on Earth. Ecology researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa “show that a consistent numerical trend links the numbers in each category, and that this can be used to predict how many entities there should be in poorly catalogued levels, such as species, from the numbers in higher levels that are much more comprehensively described.”

What’s the Big Idea?

According to the ecologists’ estimates, 80 percent of the species on Earth remain undiscovered and given current classification rates, it will take another 480 years to complete the job of recording all species. In addition to answering a fundamental biological question, zoologist Bob May of Oxford University commented on the importance of the new estimation: “Without this knowledge, we cannot even begin to answer questions such as how much diversity we can lose while still maintaining the ecosystem services that humanity depends upon.”


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