At least one-third of the species that inhabit the world's oceans may remain completely unknown to science. That's despite the fact that more species have been described in the last decade than in any previous one, according to a report published online on November 15 in the Cell Press publication Current Biology that details the first comprehensive register of marine species of the world—a massive collaborative undertaking by hundreds of experts around the globe.
The researchers estimate that the ocean may be home to as many as one million species in all—likely not more. About 226,000 of those species have so far been described. There are another 65,000 species awaiting description in specimen collections.
"For the first time, we can provide a very detailed overview of species richness, partitioned among all major marine groups. It is the state of the art of what we know—and perhaps do not know—about life in the ocean," says Ward Appeltans of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.
The findings provide a reference point for conservation efforts and estimates of extinction rates, the researchers say. They expect that the vast majority of unknown species—composed disproportionately of smaller crustaceans, molluscs, worms, and sponges—will be found this century.
Earlier estimates of ocean diversity had relied on expert polls based on extrapolations from past rates of species descriptions and other measures. Those estimates varied widely, suffering because there was no global catalog of marine species.
Appeltans and colleagues including Mark Costello from the University of Auckland have now built such an inventory. The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) is an open-access, online database (see http://www.marinespecies.org/) created by 270 experts representing 146 institutions and 32 countries. It is now 95% complete and is continually being updated as new species are discovered.
"Building this was not as simple as it should be, because there has not been any formal way to register species," Costello says.
A particular problem is the occurrence of multiple descriptions and names for the same species—so called "synonyms," Costello says. For instance, each whale or dolphin has on average 14 different scientific names.
As those synonyms are discovered through careful examination of records and specimens, the researchers expect perhaps 40,000 "species" to be struck from the list. But such losses will probably be made up as DNA evidence reveals overlooked "cryptic" species.
While fewer species live in the ocean than on land, marine life represents much older evolutionary lineages that are fundamental to our understanding of life on Earth, Appeltans says. And, in some sense, WoRMS is only the start.
"This database provides an example of how other biologists could similarly collaborate to collectively produce an inventory of all life on Earth," Appeltans says.
Appeltans et al.: "The Magnitude of Global Marine Species Diversity"
Cell Press: http://www.cellpress.com
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Results of largest ever genetics study of a single population could also help refine dates for major events during human evolution Humans are evolving more rapidly than previously thought, according to the largest ever genetics study of a single population.
Latest genetic tests reveal another break in the male line, potentially undermining the legitimacy of the entire House of Plantagenet When scientists revealed last year that an adulterous affair had apparently broken the male line in Richard III’s family tree, they vowed to investigate further.
By 2016, Icelandic genetics company deCODE will have data on half the country's population. Releasing the data will be controversial, but could save lives
A clinical trial has shown that the drug aducanumab slows cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer's and reduces the amount of amyloid plaque in their brain
A leading researcher issues a call for pills that deliver a full course of treatment in one swallow.One of the world’s preëminent biomedical researchers is calling for a concerted effort by scientists to develop pills that would stay in the stomach or gut for weeks or months once swallowed, delivering one or more drugs continuously or over set intervals.
Two genes responsible for building up drug-resistance can easily be shared between a family of bacteria
When malaria parasites infect blood, they manufacture odor molecules that smell sweet to mosquitoes, scientists report. So how do these odors get from the bloodstream to the insects?
Researchers are developing new method of wireless deep brain stimulation.
Zoos belonging to World Association of Zoos and Aquariums filmed allowing shocking mistreatment of elephants, dolphins, lions, bears, penguins and whales
Owners of Highland Wildlife Park hope Victoria, 18, will get chummy with male Arktos during her stay in the Cairngorms