Estimating the number of species on Earth is among the great challenges in biology. Earth could be home to nearly 1 trillion species, with only one-thousandth of 1% now identified, suggested a new study.
The Indiana University scientists combined microbial, plant and animal datasets from government, academic and citizen science sources, resulting in the largest compilation of its kind. Altogether, these data represent more than 5.6 million microscopic and non-microscopic species from 35,000 locations across all the world's oceans and continents, except Antarctica.
‘Earth could be home to nearly 1 trillion species, with only one-thousandth of 1% now identified, suggested a new study.’
AdvertisementJay Lennon said, "Our study combines the largest available datasets with ecological models and new ecological rules for how biodiversity relates to abundance. This gave us a new and rigorous estimate for the number of microbial species on Earth." He added that until recently, we've lacked the tools to truly estimate the number of microbial species in the natural environment. The advent of new genetic sequencing technology provides a large pool of new information.
"This research offers a view of the extensive diversity of microbes on Earth," said Simon Malcomber, director of the Dimensions of Biodiversity program. "It also highlights how much of that diversity still remains to be discovered and described."
The study's results also suggest that identifying every microbial species on Earth presents a huge challenge. "Of those species cataloged, only about 10,000 have ever been grown in a lab, and fewer than 100,000 have classified genetic sequences," Lennon said. "Our results show that this leaves 100,000 times more microorganisms awaiting discovery and 100 million to be fully explored. Microbial biodiversity, it appears, is greater than we ever imagined."
The estimate, based on universal scaling laws applied to large datasets, appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.