Encyclopedia of Life catalogues more than one-third of Earth’s species

Now this is cool, more than one-third of all the known species of life on the planet have now been cataloged … the total they have (as I write this) is 753,315. Just before we launch into the article lets clarify those numbers. It is estimated that there are probably around 8.7 million species in total. That is just a finger in the air, so it is within a couple of million either side of that. OK, just so that you understand that number, what in actually means is that an astonishing 86% of all plants and animals on land and 91% of those in the seas have yet to be named and catalogued. Ah but hang on a moment, those sums don’t add up, one-third of 8.7 million is not 753,315, so what is the story here? Easy, we only know about 1.9 species, the rest have yet to be discovered, so it now has more than one third of the known species cataloged.

Anyway lets not quibble about numbers, the actual news is that we have a growing on-line catalogue that is now well down the track, here is the story from the Guardian

An ambitious attempt to create an encyclopedia of every known species on Earth has reached a major new milestone.

The Encyclopedia of Life (EoL), a free and collaborative website, said on Monday it now has pages for each of 750,000 species, meaning more than one-third of all the planet’s 1.9m species are now covered.

“EoL is the ultimate online field guide for citizen scientists,” said Jennifer Preece, dean of the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. “There are many online sites dedicated to specific groups of species such as insects, birds or mammals. Not since Noah, however, has there been an effort like this to bring all the world’s species together.”

The site uses content from 180 partners to bring together images, videos and scientific information, including 35m pages of scanned literature created by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The new site allows members to create their own collection of species.

“The virtual collections put life into meaningful contexts from scholarly ones such as Invasive Insects of North America or Endangered Birds of Ecuador to personal collections such as A Checklist of Trees in My Backyard. Only imagination and energy limit the possibilities,” said Jesse Ausubel, vice president of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation which helps fund the EoL.

The EoL’s directors say they want it to become a microscope in reverse, or “macroscope”, helping users discern large-scale patterns. By aggregating information for analysis, they say the EoL could, for example, help map vectors of human disease, reveal mysteries behind longevity, suggest substitute plant pollinators for a growing list of places where honeybees no longer provide that service, and foster strategies to slow the spread of invasive species.

Oh but what about all the unknowns out there? Well, here are some stats for you. It has been estimated that it would take 300,000 specialists 1,200 years to go through the laborious process of describing the new discoveries in scientific journals, and then entering them in electronic databases. Alas, many of them will be long gone before we even get a chance to notice that they were ever there.

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