Discovering all creatures great and small – not impossible

Naming ALL animal and plant species on earth is a realistic goal, claim researchers who estimate that all such life could be catalogued by the end of the century.

In a review published in Science, Associate Professor Mark Costello, from The University of Auckland, and colleagues rebuff pessimistic suggestions that discovering all of the world’s species is impossible.

They estimate that the number of species on Earth today is 2-8 million (whereas some estimates place this number as high as 100 million) and that 1.5 million are already named. They go on to note that the number of critter-tagging taxonomists is not declining and species are not disappearing as fast as assumed.

“Over-estimates of the number of species on Earth are self-defeating because they can make attempts to discover and conserve biodiversity appear to be hopeless,” said Dr Costello in a media release. “Our work suggests that this is far from the case. We believe that with just a modest increase in effort in taxonomy and conservation, most species could be discovered and protected from extinction.”

The effort to name all life won’t come cheap though, the authors give an expected cost of US$0.5 to $1 billion per year to increase the global taxonomic effort and describe all species within 50 years.

Dr Costello’s review has received wide spread media attention. Examples include:

New York Times: A Rallying Cry for Naming All Species on Earth
BBC News: World’s unknown species ‘can be named’ before they go extinct
The Australian: NZ research quells extinction fears
Radio New Zealand: Research quells extinction fears
NZ Herald News: Study helps calm extinction fears
3 News: World species narrowed to 8 million max