86 Percent of Eukaryotes Undiscovered

A new estimate of eukaryotic diversity suggests a total of 8.7 million species. So far, scientists have discovered only 1.2 million of them.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef (an unusual nickname for Jennifer) got her master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses. After four years of diving off the Gulf...

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Aug 24, 2011

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, JUSTIN

A new method of estimating biodiversity narrows the prediction for the total number of eukaryotic species on Earth from 3-100 million to 7.4-10 million, according to a study published in PLoS Biology yesterday (August 23). While it may be comforting to some scientists to have a smaller range of the expected eukaryotic diversity, that still leaves some 86 percent of land species and 91 percent of marine species unidentified.

“Knowing how many plants and animals there are on the planet is absolutely fundamental," zoologist Bob May from the University of Oxford, UK, told Nature. "Without this knowledge, we cannot even begin to answer questions such as how much diversity we can lose while still maintaining the ecosystem services that humanity depends upon."

The new estimate is based on an analysis of the number of species that fall into each level of Linnaeus’s traditional classification system—kingdom, phylum,...

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