Scientists have estimated that there are more than 8 million species of plants and animals in existence. Amazingly, only about 1.2 million of them have been identified and described so far and most of those are actually insects. Millions of other organisms have yet to be discovered.
One would imagine that most of these unknown species are tiny things that are hard to spot or encounter. But our ignorance of species even applies to trees, which are pretty easy to spot if you encounter them.
A new study involving more than 100 scientists across the globe has produced an estimate of the number of tree species on the Earth. The new global estimate is that there are 73,000 tree species, which is about 14% more than previously thought. Based on a combination of data from two global datasets, the study yielded a total of 64,100 documented tree species worldwide. The researchers then used novel statistical methods to estimate the total number of unique tree species at biome, continental, and global scales, which includes species yet to be discovered and described by scientists. Therefore, the estimate predicts that there are likely to be over 9,000 tree species still to be found.
Roughly 40% of the undiscovered tree species are likely to be in South America, which is the continent with the highest number of rare tree species and the highest number of continentally endemic tree species – meaning those found only on that continent. Hot spots of undiscovered tree species are likely the tropical and subtropical moist forests of the Amazon basin and the Andes-Amazon interface.
Extensive knowledge of tree richness and diversity is key to preserving the stability and functioning of ecosystems.
Photo, posted November 5, 2017, courtesy of Deensel via Flickr.