This ‘map of life’ shows where undiscovered species may lurk

An orangutan in Indonesia, one of the biodiversity hotspots described by the research team.

An orangutan in Indonesia, one of the biodiversity hotspots described by the research team.
Photo: CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP via Getty Images (fake images)

Nine years ago, a team of Yale environmentalists drew the map of the life of the world, a project that showed bidiversity patterns in the geographic context; basically a heat map of animal life. Now, have gone one step further: documenting the most likely places that unknown species still exist, in the hope that these animals can be documented before they disappear.

The team’s investigation is published today in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. They took more than 32,000 species from four different biological classes – amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds – to make calculations about the type of life that has probably not yet been discovered. Their findings suggest that a large amount of life remains uncategorized on Earth, especially in Southeast Asia and northwestern South America.

“By using models to identify the biological and environmental drivers of recent discoveries, we can make fairly reliable predictions about how much of future discoveries might occur in reasonably large groups of species (say, amphibian families) and regions (say, the Atlantic Forest region of Brazil), ”said co-author Walter Jetz, a biologist at Yale University, in an email. “By running these models across the world and across major groups of terrestrial vertebrates, this provides an intriguing basis for identifying gaps and opportunities for future discoveries.”

Mapping the “discovery potential” of these animals encourages research teams to specifically look in areas where they are most likely to encounter animals never before recorded, the authors said. You can see the mapping product here.

“We hope to change the focus of questions like ‘How many undiscovered species exist orAre you there? to others more applied such as ‘Where and what?’ “, He said primary author Mario Moura, a biologist at the University of Paraíba in Brazil, in an email. “Is It is surprising to see the importance of tropical forests as cradles of discovery, reinforcing the urgent need to protect tropical forests and halt deforestation rates if we are to have the opportunity to truly discover our biodiversity. “

Moura said previous estimates for species discoveries only calculated the number of species per year since 1758, the year Carl Linnaeus started binomial nomenclatures. However, this approach does not take into account important factors such as habitat or species size. (No wonder Madagascar nano-chameleon documentation evaded until this year).

Deforestation and fires in the Amazon are a great threat to local species.

Deforestation and fires in the Amazon are a great threat to local species.
Photo: Photo by JOAO LAET / AFP via Getty Images (fake images)

NortheastHowever, it quantifies biodiversity in future-focused geographic terms. (knowing that Madagascar is more worth investigating than New Zealand, for example) attendIt’s like a heuristic to search for undiscovered species, of which more and more are coming to light that they are already critically endangered. Such is the case with the Popa langur, a species of monkey in Myanmar, also a biodiversity hotspot according to the team’s most recent assessment.

It is regrettable that human enterprise has tended to favor industrial profits that mean losses to wildlife. Even in the most remote places on the planet, humanity finds a way to create a negative impact.

But that’s exactly why this project exists, the authors said: to get a sense of what’s out there, before there’s no record left.

“It is a fascinating project, which brings together a multitude of data sets on the distribution of species and allows us to better understand the patterns of biodiversity on the planet,” said Moura. “We hope to motivate citizen scientists and biodiversity enthusiasts about the importance of species discovery and initiate discussions and agreements between decision makers and conservation planning.”

And while the team’s estimates are by no means accurate, the idea is that such predictions will drive specific approaches to future field discoveries. In other words, they want to work smarter, not harder, to find unknown species that may be in danger.


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