- Education and Science
How Many New Species Are Discovered in One Year? Take a Guess!
Copyright 2012-2013, Kris Heeter, Ph.D.
Ever since I was a child, one of my favorite movies was the classic "Dr. Doolittle".
I was so fascinated by his excursions, his ability to talk the animals, and the discoveries he made.
Looking back, I suspect that "Dr. Doolittle" influenced my choice of study over the years.
I've always been enthralled by the complexity and diversity of life. As a child, I dreamed of trekking the rainforests or exploring the oceans to discover new and exotic new life.
In some ways my dream has been fulfilled - I've seen aspects of life for the first time that no one else has ever seen. It's an amazing to discover something that no one else has ever seen before. And while I no longer do that type of research, I'm still fascinated by the new species that zoologists, marine biologists, entomologists, ecologists, and microbiologists discover.
A released report by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University compiles a list of species that were identified in 2009. While this report was just released (in 2012), note that it takes several years to complete a year's worth of data.
The aforementioned Species Institute mines the international literature for evidence of newly named species. Discoveries are made not only by scientists, but by amateur species explorers as well.
Take a guess:
How many new species were recently discovered in a year?
I'm going to save the number of newly identified species until the very end - keeping you in suspense!
In the meantime, I'll give you a sampling of what was discovered and let you take a guess as to how many species were identified in one year's time.
Place your vote and then continue on and see if you guessed correctly at the end of this article!
Of the new species discovered in 2009:
- >50% are insects
- 11% are plants
- 7% are fungi
- 5% are microbes
- 3% are chordates (vertebrates)
- And the remainder are other forms of invertebrates (no backbone)
Sample of New Species Discovered in the 21st Century
Nearly 2 million species have been identified since 1758.
It is estimated that 10 million additional plant and animal species still await discovery.
It has been speculated that up to 20 million new marine microbial species may still be discovered.
Giant Bioluminescent Squid
Why is the identification of new species worth studying?
It all boils down to understanding how species interact and how those interactions impact our environment.
While it may seem insignificant, the extinction of a species or the creation/evolution of a new species can have profound effects on the world around us. These changes are often indicators of the health of our environment.
"As the number of species increases, so too does our understanding of the biosphere, ...we increase our ability to understand the function of ecosystems and make effective, fact-based decisions regarding conservation." - Quentin Wheeler, a professor and entomologist at Arizona State University and the founding director of the species institute.
New Species Discovery Updates
While 2010 and 2011 data and specimens are still being analyzed, the species exploration continues. Thousands of new species continue to be discovered!
In a 42-day research expedition to the island of Luzon in the Philippines, over a dozen researchers found 300-500 new species of which140 have been formally documented and published. The remaining specimens continue to be analyzed!
"Can I have the envelope please?"
So, what do you think?
How many species were identified in 2009?
...of which only 41 were mammals!
All total, between 2000-2009, there were 176,311 newly discovered species.
Some of these species are extraordinary and beautiful!
Images are rare and typically copyrighted by those that discover them. The International Institute for Species Exploration does have a sampling of photos that I highly encourage you to check out.
The Institute has a great website and is a wonderful science resource for teachers. Kids who love to explore cool science topics will enjoy it as well.
The amount of biodiversity on the planet is incredible. Continued research and exploration not only allows scientists to make these new discoveries but helps raise awareness on how important it is to preserve our natural habitats.
Looking to the future
New species continue to be identified each year, but Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, estimates that only two million of an estimated 10 to 12 million living species have been identified to date.
In a recent press release he notes: “Now, knowing that millions of species may not survive the 21st century, it is time to pick up the pace. We are calling for a NASA-like mission to discover 10 million species in the next 50 years. This would lead to discovering countless options for a more sustainable future while securing evidence of the origins of the biosphere.”
Who knows what obscure and interesting species have yet to be discovered!