At Least a Third of All Marine Species Are Still Unknown


The most comprehensive assessment of ocean life has revealed that many marine species are still unknown to science. Credit: NOAA’s National Ocean Service

The most comprehensive assessment of ocean life has revealed that one-third to two-thirds of all species are still unknown to science.

The scientists published their findings in the journal Current Biology. There were fewer than 1 million marine species, including 226,000 species that had been described by science and 72,000 in collections awaiting description.

The rate of discovery is increasing, with an additional 20,000 new marine species described in the last decade, indicating that most marine species would be discovered in this century.

This is by far the most comprehensive assessment of how many marine species have been described to date, and how many undescribed species there could be, states Mark Costello, co-author. The study involved 120 of the world’s experts in taxonomy of marine species.

Many of the undiscovered species will come from smaller crustaceans, mollusks, algae, worms, and sponges. This is vital for conservation efforts since species are the most practical measure for distinguishing habitats and tracking progress in exploring the planet’s biodiversity. This also allows a more accurate estimate of extinction rates due to habitat loss.

The research will contribute to the World Register of Marine Species, an open-access, online database that has received contributions from 300 scientists from 32 countries.

Reference: “The Magnitude of Global Marine Species Diversity” by Ward Appeltans, Shane T. Ahyong, Gary Anderson, Martin V. Angel, Tom Artois, Nicolas Bailly, Roger Bamber, Anthony Barber, Ilse Bartsch, Annalisa Berta, Magdalena Blazewicz-Paszkowycz, Phil Bock, Geoff Boxshall, Christopher B. Boyko, Simone Nunes Brandão, Rod A. Bray, Niel L. Bruce, Stephen D. Cairns, Tin-Yam Chan, Lanna Cheng, Allen G. Collins, Thomas Cribb, Marco Curini-Galletti, Farid Dahdouh-Guebas, Peter J.F. Davie, Michael N. Dawson, Olivier De Clerck, Wim Decock, Sammy De Grave, Nicole J. de Voogd, Daryl P. Domning, Christian C. Emig, Christer Erséus, William Eschmeyer, Kristian Fauchald, Daphne G. Fautin, Stephen W. Feist, Charles H.J.M. Fransen, Hidetaka Furuya, Oscar Garcia-Alvarez, Sarah Gerken, David Gibson, Arjan Gittenberger, Serge Gofas, Liza Gómez-Daglio, Dennis P. Gordon, Michael D. Guiry, Francisco Hernandez, Bert W. Hoeksema, Russell R. Hopcroft, Damià Jaume, Paul Kirk, Nico Koedam, Stefan Koenemann, Jürgen B. Kolb, Reinhardt M. Kristensen, Andreas Kroh, Gretchen Lambert, David B. Lazarus, Rafael Lemaitre, Matt Longshaw, Jim Lowry, Enrique Macpherson, Laurence P. Madin, Christopher Mah, Gill Mapstone, Patsy A. McLaughlin, Jan Mees, Kenneth Meland, Charles G. Messing, Claudia E. Mills, Tina N. Molodtsova, Rich Mooi, Birger Neuhaus, Peter K.L. Ng, Claus Nielsen, Jon Norenburg, Dennis M. Opresko, Masayuki Osawa, Gustav Paulay, William Perrin, John F. Pilger, Gary C.B. Poore, Phil Pugh, Geoffrey B. Read, James D. Reimer, Marc Rius, Rosana M. Rocha, José I. Saiz-Salinas, Victor Scarabino, Bernd Schierwater, Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa, Kareen E. Schnabel, Marilyn Schotte, Peter Schuchert, Enrico Schwabe, Hendrik Segers, Caryn Self-Sullivan, Noa Shenkar, Volker Siegel, Wolfgang Sterrer, Sabine Stöhr, Billie Swalla, Mark L. Tasker, Erik V. Thuesen, Tarmo Timm, M. Antonio Todaro, Xavier Turon, Seth Tyler, Peter Uetz, Jacob van der Land, Bart Vanhoorne, Leen P. van Ofwegen, Rob W.M. van Soest, Jan Vanaverbeke, Genefor Walker-Smith, T. Chad Walter, Alan Warren, Gary C. Williams, Simon P. Wilson and Mark J. Costello, 15 November 2012, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.036

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