Earth could contain nearly 1 trillion species, with only one-thousandth of 1 percent now identified, according to a study from biologists. The estimate is based on the intersection of large datasets and universal scaling laws.
Scaling laws, like those discovered by the IU scientists, are known to accurately predict species numbers for plant and animal communities. For example, the number of species scales with the area of a landscape.
“Until now, we haven’t known whether aspects of biodiversity scale with something as simple as the abundance of organisms,” Locey said. “As it turns out, the relationships are not only simple but powerful, resulting in the estimate of upwards of 1 trillion species.”
The study’s results also suggest that actually identifying every microbial species on Earth is an almost unimaginably huge challenge. To put the task in perspective, the Earth Microbiome Project — a global multidisciplinary project to identify microscope organisms — has so far cataloged less than 10 million species.
“Of those cataloged species, only about 10,000 have ever been grown in a lab, and fewer than 100,000 have classified sequences,” Lennon said. “Our results show that this leaves 100,000 times more microorganisms awaiting discovery — and 100 million to be fully explored. Microbial biodiversity, it appears, is greater than ever imagined.” More. Paper. (paywall) – Kenneth J. Loceya, and Jay T. Lennona. Scaling laws predict global microbial diversity. PNAS, 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1521291113
Ecological scaling laws are intensively studied for their predictive power and universal nature but often fail to unify biodiversity across domains of life. Using a global-scale compilation of microbial and macrobial data, we uncover relationships of commonness and rarity that scale with abundance at similar rates for microorganisms and macroscopic plants and animals. We then show a unified scaling law that predicts the abundance of dominant species across 30 orders of magnitude to the scale of all microorganisms on Earth. Using this scaling law combined with the lognormal model of biodiversity, we predict that Earth is home to as many as 1 trillion (1012) microbial species.
Now would be a nice time to know what a ”species” even is No one can define it but it is the basis of Darwinian evolution.
And how does the “species” concept apply to microbes?
If numbers of species are said to be “undiscovered” or “declining,” don’t we need to start by agreeing on what we are talking about?
One hopes that the Royal Society and Templeton will make some time for that.
See also: Tree of Life online—with great graphics The tree of life is really better described as a river of life.
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