Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Earth could be home to one trillion species, study finds

MAY 3, 2016

by Brett Smith

Despite the fact that scientists have cataloged millions and millions of species, it appears they’ve only scratched the surface.

According to a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, our planet may be home to around 1 trillion species.

To reach their conclusion, the study team blended microbial, plant and animal population datasets, creating the biggest collection of its kind. In total, the massive catalog represents more than 5.6 million microscopic and macroscopic species from 35,000 sites across the world, excluding Antarctica.

"Estimating the number of species on Earth is among the great challenges in biology," study author Jay T. Lennon, associate professor of biology at Indiana University, said in a news release.

"Until recently, we've lacked the tools to truly estimate the number of microbial species in the natural environment," Lennon added. "The advent of new genetic sequencing technology provides an unprecedentedly large pool of new information."
New techniques, new conclusions

The recent acknowledgement that microorganisms were considerably under-sampled triggered a surge in new microbial sampling attempts within the last few years. The new study amasses 20,376 sampling attempts on bacteria, archaea and microscopic fungi and 14,862 sampling attempts on populations of trees, birds and mammals.

"After analyzing a massive amount of data, we observed simple but powerful trends in how biodiversity changes across scales of abundance,” said Kenneth J. Locey, a postdoctoral biology researcher at IU. “One of these trends is among the most expansive patterns in biology, holding across all magnitudes of abundance in nature."

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