Simply put, nothing is more valuable than life. In which case biodiversity is practically invaluable – and more than any of the lifeless resources our planet’s true richness. [Aren’t we clever communicators?] From this follows any loss of biodiversity is a direct loss of value – and therefore undesirable. Any species discovery on the other hand needs to be celebrated as good news – as this means Earth’s party is even bigger than we thought.
Today we welcome not one, but 19,232 ´new´ wonders of biology – of which insects are with 50.6 percent the largest group (class, to be more precise).
This we learn from the new ‘State of Observed Species’ report released by the International Institute for Species Exploration. It lists all the species that we discovered in the year 2009 and are now new to science – but, perhaps needless to say, most have been around much, much longer.
The largest order among the new insects were the beetles, with 3,485 new species.
[Beetles, officially called Coleoptera, are in fact also the largest order of life, constituting approximately 25 percent of all known life forms. So next time you think of 'biodiversity' you are forgiven to think of a ladybird - and all her happy little cousins.]
A further 2,184 vascular plant species were discovered. With 11.3 percent of the global 2009 biodiversity addition these make the second largest group.
Next there were 1,487 newly discovered arachnid species (spiders and mites). With ‘just’ 41 new mammals and 7 new birds these two orders delivered comparatively small contributions.
As amphibians are one of the most threatened classes we are especially cheered to learn that science has made contact with 133 new species in the order of Anura, best known as frogs.
[No, these two new frogs are not included in the 2009 count – small wonder they went unnoticed thus far. (They were 'smallest' for only a month btw.)]
Also 626 new crustaceans have been discovered and for instance 31 new snakes, 38 lizards, 29 geckos, 12 iguanas, five chameleons and two turtles.
Discovering species however does little to halt the Holocene Mass Extinction. A sobering thought is that explorers don´t just discover living species. In 2009 5 times as many fossil bird species were discovered as live ones.
Pie chart from 2009 State of Observed Species report showing new species discoveries across a convenient mix of paraphyletic and monophyletics groups in taxonomic classification. Invertebrates made up 72.3 percent, Plantae 11.5 percent, Fungi 7.1 percent, Microbes 5.8 percent, Chordata [that is you as well as your goldfish] 3.3 percent. Credit: International Institute for Species Exploration/Arizona State University.
© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org