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How many species on Earth? 8.7 million

n of Nature assessed 59,508 species, of which 19,625 are classified as threatened. This means the IUCN Red List, the most sophisticated ongoing study of its kind, monitors less than 1% of world species.

The research is published alongside a commentary by Lord Robert May of Oxford, past-president of the UK's Royal Society, who praises the researchers' "imaginative new approach."

"It is a remarkable testament to humanity's narcissism that we know the number of books in the US Library of Congress on 1 February 2011 was 22,194,656, but cannot tell you -- to within an order-of-magnitude -- how many distinct species of plants and animals we share our world with," Lord May writes.

"(W)e increasingly recognize that such knowledge is important for full understanding of the ecological and evolutionary processes which created, and which are struggling to maintain, the diverse biological riches we are heir to. Such biodiversity is much more than beauty and wonder, important though that is. It also underpins ecosystem services that -- although not counted in conventional GDP -- humanity is dependent upon."

Drawing conclusions from 253 years of taxonomy since Linnaeus

Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus created and published in 1758 the system still used to formally name and describe species. In the 253 years since, about 1.25 million species -- roughly 1 million on land and 250,000 in the oceans -- have been described and entered into central databases (roughly 700,000 more are thought to have been described but have yet to reach the central databases).

To now, the best approximation of Earth's species total was based on the educated guesses and opinions of experts, who variously pegged the figure in a range from 3 to 100 million -- wildly differing numbers questioned because there is no way to validate them.

Drs. Mora and Worm, together with Dalhousie colleagues Derek P. Tittensor, Sina Adl and Alastair G.B

Contact: Terry Collins
Census of Marine Life

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