(Wikimedia Commons Image)
Each year, scientists discover an average of 15,000 new species, usually ones that are highly endangered. But can this trend of discovery continue, and are we reaching a limit on how many species actually exist in the world?
Researchers have documented more than 1.2 million species. A paper published this year in the journal PLoS Biology, however, concludes that the number represents a drop in the animal, plant and other life kingdom bucket. Lead author Camilo Mora and colleagues predict that there are 8.7 million species globally.
"In spite of 250 years of taxonomic classification and over 1.2 million species already catalogued in a central database, our results suggest that some 86 percent of existing species on Earth and 91 percent of species in the ocean still await description," Mora, director of the Mora Lab at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and his team wrote.
The researchers used data on past discoveries, including the taxonomic classifications, to make their predictions. Here they are broken down by groups:
7.77 million more species of animals
298,000 more species of plants
611,000 more species of fungi
6,400 more species of protozoa
27,500 more species of
So where are all of these species hiding out? Some are in the ocean and other bodies of water, which are notoriously difficult to study.
There's a good chance that many others may reside within known biodiversity hot spots. These are among the richest and most threatened reservoirs of life on Earth. Biodiversity hot spots include parts of California, the Caribbean, the Himalayas, the coastal forests of Eastern Africa and other areas. (A great list with added info is at this Conservation International website.)
Today it was announced that 208 new species were discovered in the year 2010 alone in the Greater Mekong subregion, which comprises parts of Cambodia, the People's Republic of China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
The finds include a monkey that resembles rock 'n' roller Elvis (it's the hairstyle) and a psychedelic-hued gecko. You can see images of both here.