18,225 new species discovered in 2008

/ Jeremy Hance

In the 2010 State of Observed Species researchers have announced that 18,225 living species were discovered in 2008. In addition, 2,140 new extinct species were discovered byway of fossils.

In the 2010 State of Observed Species researchers have announced that 18,225 living species were discovered in 2008. In addition, 2,140 new extinct species were discovered byway of fossils.

For researchers the easiest new species to discover were insects: over 48 percent of the new species described in 2008 were insects. Over a third of the new insects were beetles. Mammals were among the most difficult: researchers discovered only 41 new species of mammal in 2008, nearly a third of which were rodents. Five times as many extinct mammals were found as living species.

To date insects represents a majority of the world’s species with just over a million insects described. Plants come in second with just over a quarter-million. As of 2008, researchers have described 9,997 birds, 8,863 reptiles, 6,644 amphibians, and 5,528 mammals. In all, scientists have described almost 2 million species (1,922,710) since taxonomic work began in the 18th Century.

Unidentified planthopper insect from Madagascar. Scientists estimate that at best 20 percent of the world’s species have been described. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

However, most of the world’s species remain unknown to researchers. According to the report, scientists believe that there are at least 10 million species in the world, as well as tens of millions of microbes. If the current rate of discovery (i.e. approximately 18,000 new species a year) continues, it will take taxonomists 444 more years to describe the world’s estimated remaining 8 million (non-microbial) species.

However, if higher total species estimations prove correct, for example 50 million species, then it would take two and half millennia before the world’s species are described at the present rate.

Whether 8 million or 48 million species remain undiscovered by researchers, many of these species may vanish before scientists find them. Extinction rates are currently estimated at 100 to 1000 times higher than the background extinction rate (i.e. the average extinction rate as determined by studying fossils), leading scientists to warn of a mass extinction that could rival the comet that destroyed the dinosaurs.

To read the report: SOS 2010.

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