New Study: Thousands of Undiscovered Plant Species Worldwide Face Extinction
7 July 2010
Press release from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent
The year 2010 marks the International Year of Biodiversity. The focus of this celebration has often been on the species we know of, along with discussions on the unprecedented challenge of conserving this biodiversity in the face of threats such as habitat loss.
Most striking, however, is the number of species awaiting discovery. Of the 1.5-2 million known species, scientists have estimated the total number of species on earth could be somewhere between 5 and 50 million.
A new paper in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B sheds light on how many species remain to be discovered. A trio of UK and US researchers used novel methods to calculate the total number of flowering plants on earth, estimating a 10-20% increase. This study made use of the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, an unprecedented online resource at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
The lead author on the paper, Dr. Lucas Joppa from Microsoft Research, says the paper’s results “have enormous conservation implications, as any as-yet-unknown species are likely to be overwhelmingly rare and threatened – like most recently discovered species.”
The study’s results can also be used to infer the proportion of threatened species. Co-author Dr. David Roberts from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, finds these conclusions to be some of the paper’s most exciting. “If we take the number of species that are currently known to be threatened, and add to that those that are yet to be discovered, we can estimate that 27-33% of all flowering plants will be threatened with extinction.” “These numbers may increase with currently unconsidered threats, such as climate change”, adds Dr. Joppa.
“The timing couldn’t be more perfect”, says co-author and prominent conservation biologist Dr. Stuart Pimm of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, says “It is 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, and we wrote the paper because the obvious question is how much biodiversity is out there. How many species will we lose before they are even discovered?”.
Dr. Lucas Joppa
7 JJ Thomson Avenue
Cambridge CB3 0FB
Phone: +44 (0)7793 560762
Dr. David Roberts
Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, School of Anthropology and Conservation
University of Kent, Marlowe Building
Canterbury CT2 7NR
Phone: +44 (0)7507 563666
Dr. Stuart Pimm
Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology, Nicholas School of the Environment
Phone: +1 (646) 489 5481
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