Diversity, Discovery, and a Ticking Clock: Species Extinctions May Be Outpacing New Species Discoveries, Scientists Warn

By Docksai, Rick | The Futurist, September-October 2012 | Go to article overview

Diversity, Discovery, and a Ticking Clock: Species Extinctions May Be Outpacing New Species Discoveries, Scientists Warn


Docksai, Rick, The Futurist


Professional and amateur taxonomists around the world have better tools at their disposal for identifying new species, including some that may be of vital significance. But they may be running out of time.

"If you are looking for the most sensitive canary in the mine for early alerts of environmental change, it will be found among the millions of species, most of which we do not yet know," Arizona State University entomologist Quentin D. Wheeler told THE FUTURIST.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Biologists may have thus far discovered only about one-sixth of the planet's wildlife, according to a recent paper in Systematics and Biodiversity, for which Wheeler served as lead author. While scientists have identified about 2 million species of plants, animals, fungi, and other life forms (excluding bacteria), there could be another 10 million waiting for someone to find them, estimate the paper's 39 co-authors, among whom are noted biologist Edward O. Wilson and botanist Peter H. Raven.

The authors urge the world community to act fast, however: Human destruction of wildlife habitats could wipe many species out before anyone ever discovers them.

"It's probably a good thing to learn all we can before it is too late," says Wheeler.

Some species groups are more obscure than others, according to Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden. He notes that insects, nematodes, mites, and fungi are among the "least-well-known" groups, and thus may represent large swaths of the hitherto undiscovered. There are about 16,000 known nematode species, for example--this includes roundworms and animal parasites--but the total number that exists might be around 1 million.

Raven also foresees more discovering to do in certain geographic areas. The tropics, Southeast Asia, and New Guinea will all be key locales--ecologically rich and sparsely populated by humans, but unfortunately also very threatened, he says.

In fact, human civilization as a whole may now be killing species off more quickly than it is discovering them, according to Raven, who estimates that 30% of Earth's species will be extinct by the century's end. He blames climate change and decimation of species habitats by resource-hungry humans.

"Overconsumption doesn't leave a lot of room for the future of biological diversity," Raven says.

Wheeler agrees, noting that many species occur in only one or a few places and depend on a particular set of other species. As habitats are destroyed or damaged, some species cannot cope.

"The biodiversity crisis has made it clear that in spite of our most heroic efforts we will witness the extinction of a large number of species, possibly numbering in the millions," says Wheeler.

The co-authors have this good news, though: Tools for discovering and classifying species have evolved considerably in the digital era. The Internet and mobile communications greatly facilitate information sharing among taxonomists. Wheeler looks forward to nature collections everywhere being able to connect, so that any new discovery could instantly get the attention of any expert, anywhere.

"By using off-the-shelf technology, we could increase the speed of species classification by an order of magnitude," he says.

Digital media is also an effective means of sharing species news with the public, he notes Amateur taxonomists are already active today, participating in nature clubs that visit sites and look for new specimens.

Digital technology's further development could make it easier for professional taxonomists to guide amateurs on what to look for. Those amateurs will then help the professionals find more new species, more quickly.

"Until now there was a glass ceiling that prohibited most amateurs from going as far as they might like to go in doing taxonomy," says Wheeler. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Diversity, Discovery, and a Ticking Clock: Species Extinctions May Be Outpacing New Species Discoveries, Scientists Warn
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.