Huge Diversity of Life on Earth The images above come from Volume One of ‘Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri’ by Albertus Seba, 1734 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may never have occurred to the vast majority of people, but we humans actually share this amazing planet of ours with a truly staggering number of species. The natural world, according to the latest estimate, comprises somewhere around 8.7 million, the most accurate ever figure the researchers say. However, the vast majority of these have yet to be identified, and it is believed that a millennium will be needed just to catalogue them all. Studying relationships between the components of the family tree of life has produced the figures, though the fear is that many species will be extinct even before they can be studied.


Research team, Derek Tittensor, part of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, worked beside Canadian Dalhousie University and the University of Hawaii on the project, which excludes bacteria and some other types of micro-organisms. Oddly enough, as former Royal Society president Lord (May commented, though humanity can say with certainty that there are 22,194,656 books in the US Library of Congress, it cannot do the same for the natural world inhabitants of our planet. Of the 8.7 million estimated, the vast majority are animals, though fungi, plants, single-cell organisms and algae are also included. 


Though only around1.2 million species have been formally described, the vast majority coming from the land, rather than the seas, the team believes there is a long way still to go Only 12% of the estimated 7.7million animal species have to date been described – only 7% of 0.61 million Fungi species, a mere 22% of single-cell life-forms, just 50% of algae and 30% pf the plant world remains to be written about. The figures were arrived at based on the taxonomy system created in 1758 by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus. Closely related species groups get clustered into families, t orders classes phyla, and finally into kingdoms, and researchers found that the higher up the tree of life they looked, the rarer new discoveries became.


They found that using numbers from the higher taxonomic groups, they could predict the number of species. If the estimated number, which could well be a million out in either direction, turned out to be ciorrect, it would mean that only 14% of species on earth have yet been identified, only 9% in the case of the vast  oceans. Researchers do not expect their calculations to be the end of the story by any means, simply pointing out that this helps demonstrate how little is known about the species with which we share the planet.


Humanity is changing the Earth’s natural landscapes so quickly, utterly indifferent to the impact on the life in them, that huge numbers of as yet undiscovered species never will be, because we could well eradicate them without ever having known of their existence. As frightening as this thought is, it simply goes to show how little we really know of the world around us, and how insignificant we truly are.  

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