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UN study estimates 8.7 million species on earth require $364b care

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A new study conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that the most precise total number of species on earth is 8.7 million.

Around 6.5 million species are found on land and 2.2 million are in the ocean depths with 86% of all species on land and 91% of those in the seas have yet to be discovered, described or catalogued, according to the report co-authored by Mr. Derek Tittensor at UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

Giving the five known eukaryote (an organism whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes) kingdoms of life on earth, the UNEP discloses the following:

  • 7.77 million species of animals (of which 953,434 have been described and catalogued)
  • 298,000 species of plants (of which 215,644 have been described and catalogued),
  • 611,000 species of fungi (moulds, mushrooms) (of which 43,271 have been described and catalogued)
  • 36,400 species of protozoa (single-cell organisms with animal-like behaviour, of which 8,118 have been described and catalogued)
  • 27,500 species of chromists (including brown algae, diatoms, water moulds, of which 13,033 have been described and catalogued)

Based on current costs and requirements, the study suggests that describing all remaining species using traditional approaches could require up to 1,200 years of work by more than 300,000 taxonomists at an approximate cost of $364 billion.

Fortunately, new techniques such as DNA, barcoding are radically reducing the cost and time involved in new species identification, it said.

“The immense effort entering all known species in taxonomic databases such as the Catalogue of Life and the World Register of Marine Species makes our analysis possible,” said Derek Tittensor in a statement published on UNEP’s website.

Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification.

As these databases grow and improve, our method can be refined and updated to provide an even more precise estimate, he adds.

By Ekow Quandzie

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