Every Species on the Planet Documented in New Report

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Every Species on the Planet Documented in New Report

By Sophie Tedmanson, TimesOnline.co.uk

More than a fifth of of all known mammals are endangered, as are 29 per cent of amphibians and 12 per cent of birds, according to the study, the result of an international effort to catalogue every known current and extinct species of plant and animal.

Almost 10 per cent of known species are threatened with extinction, according to the first comprehensive study of the world’s wildlife.

Polar bears, whose habitat is threatened by melting ice, and Tasmanian devils, which have been pushed to the brink of extinction by a cancer, are just two of the tens of thousands of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians that are in danger.

The report, The Number of Living Species in Australia and the World , published by the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS), says that 9.2 per cent of known animal species are endangered by habitat loss, climate change and other pressures.

More than a fifth of of all known mammals are endangered, as are 29 per cent of amphibians and 12 per cent of birds, according to the study, the result of an international effort to catalogue every known current and extinct species of plant and animal.

So far, 1.9 million species have been identified, but the authors believe that figure could swell to 11 million, as vast numbers of invertebrates, fungi and other organisms have yet to be found, classified and named. This month British scientists helped to discover at least 40 new species in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea, including 16 frogs, a bat and a giant rat, which may turn out to be the biggest in the world.

The project, which has the support of Sir David Attenborough, has identified 114,000 new species in the past three years, including eight mammals. New finds are running at about 18,000 a year, but a shortage of taxonomists, the scientists who identify and classify species, is slowing the work. The number of animals endangered also far outweighs new discoveries.

Sir David described the census as being “the very foundation of the natural sciences” and an essential tool in protecting biodiversity. “Unless we can be certain of exactly what organism we are considering, we cannot protect it, still less understand it,” he said. “Listing species is the beginning of that essential process. So this report will provide a crucial reference point for those who are acting to protect our planet.”

The study’s estimate that there are 11 million species is towards the lower end of previous scientific projections, which have put the figure at between three million and 100 million. In part that may be because of DNA sequencing, which has made the task of distinguishing species much easier, especially among smaller creatures.

A biodiversity index may eventually be produced on the basis of the project measuring mankind’s progress in protecting plants and animals — a kind of Dow Jones index of the planet’s flora and fauna. The study also adds to the growing weight of scientific knowledge about the problems faced by the world’s wildlife and provides a broader context for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, an annual report that focuses on which species are most in danger of extinction. Cameron Slatyer, the ABRS director, co-ordinated the study with more than 50 scientists around the world, including experts from the Natural History Museum in London.

He said: “This report gives the Red List more meaning because until you have some estimate of the detail of biodiversity on the planet, you cannot quantify how serious the extinction threat is.”

The research also reveals that Australia is one of the world’s great repositories of unique species — one of 12 “mega-diverse” lands, with a higher number of endemic species than normal. About 87 per cent of its mammals and 93 per cent of its reptiles are found nowhere else.

Peter Garrett, the Australian Environment Minister, described the report as a “fantastic contribution to the fight to conserve biodiversity”. “We need this information to do a better job of managing our biodiversity against the threats of invasive species, habitat loss and climate change.”

Threatened species in Britain include the cuckoo, hedgehogs, herring gulls, harvest mice and the Scottish wildcat. Overfishing in British and European waters has endangered once common fish, such as skate.