Scientist debunks extinction claims

KELSEY FLETCHER
Last updated 13:28 25/01/2013

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An Auckland University scientist has debunked claims that many species of animals will become extinct before humans ever know about them.

Associate Professor Mark Costello, from the university's Leigh Marine Laboratory, discovered that an overestimation of the number of species on earth and the false belief that the number of people who work on classifying species was declining had given the impression that living creatures will become extinct before they are discovered.

Costello led the research project, which has been been published in the latest issue of Science, with a team of researchers from Griffith University and Oxford University.

"Overestimates of the number of species on Earth are self-defeating because they can make attempts to discover and conserve biodiversity appear to be hopeless," said Dr Costello. 

"Our work suggests that this is far from the case. We believe that with just a modest increase in effort in taxonomy and conservation, most species could be discovered and protected from extinction."

The authors propose that there are actually around five million species on Earth - far fewer than the eight million other research has suggested.

Of those species, 1.5 million have been named. 

Costello and his team also discovered the number of professionals and amateurs describing new species is actually it its greatest, around 50,000.

Despite what the research suggests the team do not underplay the seriousness of over-hunting, habitat loss and climate change, now occurring at both local and global scales. 

Costello says the discovery and naming of species is critical to their conservation.

The researchers recommend getting more people involved in the work, international coordination of exploration and specimen collections, the development of freely available online databases, and financial support from governments and other organisations.

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