Most Earth species 'still unknown', Brazil expert says

February 26, 2013
A Toucan rescued from traffickers, at a recovery center for wild animals near Rio de Janeiro. The vast majority of the Earth's estimated 13 million species are still unknown and to describe them all would take up to 2,000 years, according to a leading Brazilian scientist.

The vast majority of the Earth's estimated 13 million species are still unknown and to describe them all would take up to 2,000 years, according to a leading Brazilian scientist.

"We estimate that there are a total of around 13 million species (known and unknown) in the world," says Thomas Lewinsohn, a renowned professor of ecology at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in Sao Paulo state.

"Out of these, roughly 1.75 million species, including micro-organisms, plants, insects, bacteria and animals, have been described," he told AFP in an interview.

And there is actually no consensus on the exact number of species, with experts relying on based on known data.

Lewinsohn presented his findings at a forum organized here last week by FAPESP, a local research foundation focusing on Sao Paulo state's .

A Phyllomedusa distincta, or monkey frog, at Salto Morato Nature Reserve in Brazil's Parana province. "We estimate that there are a total of around 13 million species (known and unknown) in the world," says Thomas Lewinsohn, a renowned professor of ecology at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in Sao Paulo state.

He said a major problem was a lack of data in countries with the greatest biodiversity such as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia or South Africa.

"Most species have been discovered by amateur taxonomists (scientists who classify organisms according to their physical or cellular characteristics) in Europe," he noted. "That is not the case in Brazil and countries with high biodiversity where we do not have an army of amateur taxonomists."

He stressed the importance of understanding the biodiversity of smaller species such as microbes to map out that can preserve the ecosystem.

"You cannot base solely on well-studied groups," he noted. "If we are concerned about maintaining functioning , we must study further the biodiversity of smaller organisms such as insects and ."

Countries such as Brazil need international assistance to build and regularly monitor reference data to "come up with reliable estimates of changes in biodiversity".

"It requires a different , a rethink of how money is allocated," Lewinsohn noted.

Describing all species, he said, might take up to 2,000 years and the cost could range between $25 and 50 billion over 50 years.

Lewinsohn said this compared with the $1.738 trillion the world spent on arms just in 2011 or the $195 billion spent on NASA's space shuttle program from 1971 to 2011.

Explore further: The sad state of biodiversity

Related Stories

The sad state of biodiversity

October 5, 2012

Factfile on biodiversity ahead of talks opening Monday under the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, India.

Study: New species literally spend decades on the shelf

November 19, 2012

Many of the world's most unfamiliar species are just sitting around on museum shelves collecting dust. That's according to a report in the November 20th issue of Current Biology showing that it takes more than 20 years on ...

Satellite images tell tales of changing biodiversity

October 24, 2012

Analysis of texture differences in satellite images may be an effective way to monitor changes in vegetation, soil and water patterns over time, with potential implications for measuring biodiversity as well, according to ...

Most of 'missing species' live in known hotspots, study finds

July 4, 2011

Most of the world's "missing" or undiscovered species live in regions already identified by scientists as conservation priorities, according to a new study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy ...

Recommended for you

Histone 1, the guardian of genome stability

August 18, 2017

Scientists headed by Ferran Azorín at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) have discovered why histone 1 is a major protection factor against genomic instability and a vital protein. Their study of the ...

New gene catalog of ocean microbiome reveals surprises

August 17, 2017

Microbes dominate the planet, especially the ocean, and help support the entire marine food web. In a recent report published in Nature Microbiology, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa (UHM) oceanography professor Ed DeLong ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.