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What we know and don't know about Earth's missing biodiversity
Date:7/19/2012

Most of the world's species are still unknown to science although many researchers grappled to address the question of how many species there are on Earth over the recent decades. Estimates of non-microbial diversity on Earth provided by researchers range from 2 million to over 50 million species, with great uncertainties in numbers of insects, fungi, nematodes, and deep-sea organisms.

Some groups of species, such as plants and birds, are well-known, with scientists discovering relatively few new ones each year. For insects and fungi, however, it is almost impossible to guess how many unknown species there are.

These findings were revealed in a first-ever study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS), James Cook University in Australia, Microsoft Research in the United Kingdom and Duke University in the United States, and was first published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution on 10 July 2012.

The researchers emphasise the importance of technology such as DNA barcoding, new databases and crowd-sourcing, that could greatly accelerate the rate of species discovery.

Unknown Biodiversity: Estimates

In their study, Scheffers and his colleagues collated information from numerous studies that attempt to estimate numbers and characteristics of unknown biodiversity. What may seem like straight forward questions about the Earth's biodiversity are "deceptively complex", warned the researchers.

"What we do know," said lead researcher Brett R. Scheffers, who is from the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS, "is that these unknown species are likely living in places where they are in danger of extinction, and that we could lose many before we realise how valuable they are."

"The problem is how one protects an animal that has never been seen," he added. "What we want to know is how many species the
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Contact: Carolyn Fong
carolyn@nus.edu.sg
65-651-65399
National University of Singapore
Source:Eurekalert

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