Last updated at 11:41 GMT, Monday, 28 January 2013

Listing all species on earth 'a possibility'

Summary

25 January 2013

It could be possible to discover all of the species on Earth by the end of this century, a new study published in the journal Science claims.

Reporter:

Rebecca Morelle

Crested macaques

Many species, such as these crested macaques, are in danger of dying out

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We've already found more than a million species, but unearthing the rest was thought to be an impossible task.

But now it seems an army of amateur scientists have taken up the cause. A new study concludes that, thanks to them, we're in a golden age of discovery, with 20,000 new finds charted each year.

There could also be far fewer plants and animals left for them to find. The researchers say rather than tens of millions of species living on Earth, there could be between two and eight million.

If the appetite for discovery continues to grow, they say a full ecological audit could be a possibility within the next 100 years.

The scientists also looked at the numbers of species going extinct, and said this had been overestimated.

Professor Mark Costello, from the University of Auckland, is the lead author of the study:

"Suddenly people say we're in the middle of a mass extinction crisis well that's a bit premature because when we look at the extinction rates that are actually happening they're not as bad as people have been letting on."

But the International Union for the Conservation of Nature disagreed with the team's conclusion that the rate of new species found was higher than the numbers being lost.

The organisation's deputy director said it was more important to save species than to count them.

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Vocabulary

unearthing

discovering things after careful searching

taken up the cause

become actively involved in a movement

a golden age

a period of time in which things are very successful and people are happy

charted

recorded, listed

appetite for discovery

desire to find out and learn about new things

ecological audit

a thorough study of all plants and animals and the environmental conditions in which they live

overestimated

thought that something would be greater than it is

mass extinction

a large number of plants and animals becoming extinct at the same time

premature

happening too early, before the normal time

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