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New Estimate Suggests 5.5M Species On Earth, Not 30-100M

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  • by MarbleMunkey (1495379) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:33AM (#32432330)
    after we've killed off a bunch of them.
    • by bsDaemon (87307) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:35AM (#32432368)

      hey, dude... BP is trying as hard as they can to get the rest of them, too. It's just taking a little longer than first thought. Cut them some slack.

    • So, since most people adhere to evolutionary theories - isn't killing off of species by other species part of evolution?

      • by maxume (22995) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:49AM (#32432610)

        Yeah, sure.

        But we can ask the question: Is our wanton destruction of many of the ecosystems on earth a desirable thing?

        Quibbling over whether it is properly described as natural or not sort of misses the point.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          But we can ask the question: Is our wanton destruction of many of the ecosystems on earth a desirable thing?

          Interesting. I'd certainly argue it's not. Good point.

          Quibbling over whether it is properly described as natural or not sort of misses the point.

          Granted. On the other hand, it's not a moral issue, in this case. It's a survival-of-our-race issue, in this case?

          My underlying point is that many seem to hold to two opposing ideas, IMO...

          1. There is no God, and evolution is how everything got here.

          2. It's wrong to destroy species, etc. There's some moral/ethical/inherently-bad thing about it.

          To me, there's a disconnect. #1 has some amount of backing (evolutionary theory). #2, combined with #1, s

          • Morality and ethics are not dependent on the existence of God. There is considerable philosophical debate on what things are ethical, and what the foundation of ethics is (inherent, social, etc.), but God cannot be reasonably said to be the only backing for ethics.

            That said, I am under the understanding that many consider "3. It's not a good idea to destroy species; doing so may have repercussions for us" a reasonable third option.

          • by TheLink (130905)
            > It's a survival-of-our-race issue, in this case?

            I hope it's not mere survival we're aiming for.
          • by wastedlife (1319259) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @01:29PM (#32434348) Homepage Journal

            1. There is no God, and evolution is how everything got here.

            2. It's wrong to destroy species, etc. There's some moral/ethical/inherently-bad thing about it.

            To me, there's a disconnect. #1 has some amount of backing (evolutionary theory). #2, combined with #1, seems to me to have no backing.

            Evolution is not aimed to disprove God, it is a well-tested and refined theory on how life changes over generations. While many, myself included, do not believe in the existence of a deity, it is not a causal relationship with the acceptance of theories in the scientific community. Nor do I feel it necessary to conflict the two. I do have conflict with the teaching of creationism and/or "intelligent design" as science in schools, as they are not theories formed using the scientific method, but that is a different topic.

            As for morality/ethics, as TheCycoONE mentions, they are not dependent on a God, so there is no inherent disconnect with your #1 and #2.

            • by g4b (956118) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @03:10PM (#32435880) Homepage
              I, as a strong believer in God, have to agree completely with what you just said.

              Let me tell about my side of the story...

              I do believe, that nature is intelligently designed ;) , but I do not agree with Intelligent Design, so do I not with Creationism.
              There is a part of the teaching about micro- and macroevolution (evolution inbetween species and from species to species), which I do like as a thought - there is also no hard proof of species converting to other either - but I do believe MacroEv in the long run to be possible, maybe even wanted or happening.

              As I have researched back then in historical background, evolution, as many other theories, came out of scientific university background, and was used in media to bash christian beliefs (I think it was english media, a face off between some clergy guy and a professor). From there on, the normal cycle of historical developments, where science changed the view of deists and atheists at the same amount over time (mostly by some sacrifices of christian scientists facing christian clergy), did not take it's usual path. It became something which was a direct attack on God, and was used as such. Same goes for the Big Bang, which in theory still does not proof God not existing. Christians started to defend themselves using non scientific explanations or pseudo science to keep their face in the last century, forgetting, that also christians fought to have a separation, freedom of faith and so on.

              It feels like, believers tried to create a chisma between science and religion and now we have to pay for it by being attacked from those we wanted to liberate. Because not all christians did or do support religious viewpoints.

              Universities in itself, as also many other aspects of our humanist culture, is something, a Christian would have fought for, especially from the early churches, but I think especially our main figure in the bible would have. Many scientists before this event were strong believers. But nowadays they are silent, silent because their scientific work would not been taken seriously if they admitted they are christians, and sometimes troubled in faith, because fundamentalists question their faith - they are attacked from both worlds.

              It is hard to know, who really is at fault, populistic science, or religious fundamentalists, and who fired the first shot - I think it could be the christians on the other side. But one thing is clear: this war is not needed. Universities were not the temples of Atheism, as many christians nowadays see them. Knowledge was a virtue, it could be a calling from God, some books in the bible were written by "scientific" people back in the days of Luke (Genealogy was for example the begin of a historic text) and many Universities were founded by liberal thinking christians.

              I do have experience. If I say, I do believe in God, I am regarded as somebody who might not really understand science (well I would never say, I know very much). It's a hard life in universities, and certainly did affect my life in general, in both studies - medicine and computer science. As if my personal belief in a God would not make me somebody who wants to find out what's out there, how things work and so on.

              Since I was an atheist for a good period of my life, and did ask myself, how God can exist if evolution is proposed, I do understand, that it is seen as a contrast to the bible, it does trouble people seeking a faith.
              Reading first chapter genesis and realising it's completely different aspect on creation as later in the book, seeing that even the timeline matches, and that it is only one chapter of a book afterwards going in a completely different direction, it made me realise, it's just a populistic hategame and talk-a-lot all around the world, like there is racism, and it should not stand in the way to only read, what that book has to say to me - or not. So I did continue. Many questions ahead. Still quite sceptical. Love Gen1,1 though.

              I do enjoy the company of atheistic
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by wastedlife (1319259)

                Thanks for the insightful and well thought out post. It is really too bad that religion and science come to blows so often when they should remain unrelated. If computer technology somehow conflicted with the teachings of the Bible, would a fundamentalist denounce the use of them? If somehow evidence was found proving the existence of a deity, would atheists deny it, even if it were peer-reviewed and followed the scientific method? My guess, is that they probably would, and that is human nature at some of i

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yes, it would be a part of the whole selection process.

        The real problem with the numbers that go extinct is that when some species are removed from existence, the whole ecosystem goes crazy because it's not built to operate at the sudden pace that we're pushing it at. Plus, we're hitting nearly every ecosystem with rapid change at once, which is taking a somewhat delicate system and playing Jenga with it.

        • by Scrameustache (459504) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:39PM (#32433478) Homepage Journal

          when some species are removed from existence, the whole ecosystem goes crazy because it's not built to operate at the sudden pace that we're pushing it at. Plus, we're hitting nearly every ecosystem with rapid change at once, which is taking a somewhat delicate system and playing Jenga with it.

          In other words: Once we hit that bulls-eye, the dominoes will fall like a house of cards; checkmate.

          • by alta (1263)

            dominoes will fall like a house of cards; checkmate

            Dude, you must be ADD. You play all that at once?

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:50AM (#32432636) Journal
        Not really. Once a species dies out completely, it's failed at evolution. Killing off a significant proportion of a population periodically, however, causes the traits of the survivors to be selected for. An example of this is immunity to rat poison. Rats have a very high mutation rate (a huge number of them die of cancer as a result), and so it's likely that a very small proportion of the population will be immune to any given poison that you can use. After a few days, you've killed off all of the local population except the immune ones. After a few weeks, the survivors have passed on their immunity to their offspring, and a couple of months later you have the same number of rats but none are immune. In contrast, if you kill them all with fire (which they are very unlikely to be immune to) then none will survive to the next generation so the local population dies completely.
        • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:17PM (#32433116) Homepage Journal

          So in order to kill Master Splinter, we must use flame throwers, got it.

        • by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb.gmail@com> on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:18PM (#32433128) Homepage Journal

          In contrast, if you kill them all with fire (which they are very unlikely to be immune to) then none will survive to the next generation so the local population dies completely.

          A rat immune to poisons AND fire would be amazing. In a few generations, we could have rats that are poison resistant, fire-resistant, metal-resistant, you name it.

          Awesome.

          Basically, we'd have a group of cleric-rats.

        • by corbettw (214229)

          if you kill them all with fire (which they are very unlikely to be immune to) then none will survive to the next generation so the local population dies completely.

          Or nukes from orbit.

          Just sayin'.

        • In contrast, if you kill them all with fire (which they are very unlikely to be immune to) ...

          Yeah, but can you imagine the kind of rat that would be immune to fire?! I say nuke 'em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

        • It's also worth noting that punctuated equilibrium observes that few species actually change significantly over thousands of years. Evolution is driven more by extinctions and new species arising than one species evolving in one direction.

          It's unlikely that, say, seagulls worldwide would face the same selective forces, they're not all going to be facing concentrated oil spills, so seagulls worldwide would probably not evolve simultaneously. Some seagulls in louisiana might happen to have traits that will

      • Natural selection is indeed integral to speciation over time. However because humans are subjective creatures, they get upset when natural selection does select what they want. When species that they think are 'cute' or 'pretty' start to die because the environment doesn't support them, whereas species that they think are 'ugly' or 'gross' proliferate because they use the resources of an environment better than others, they get upset and start whining and blaming each other. It's pretty stupid. They refuse
      • by Sperbels (1008585)

        So, since most people adhere to evolutionary theories - isn't killing off of species by other species part of evolution?

        Yes, but evolution won't necessarily be kind to us if we do so. Evolution isn't necessarily a good thing, especially if its crosshairs are on you.

      • by wastedlife (1319259) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:14PM (#32433048) Homepage Journal

        I'll bite. Stop anthropomorphizing evolution. Evolution does not care if it is the right thing to grow a second head or kill off the only food source. Evolution is a theory used to explain how organisms change with successive generations. That is all. It should not be used to moralize our actions. That is how things like eugenics get proposed. Going by your logic, because many people adhere to astronomy theories, we should not attempt to intercede if we detect a large comet on a collision course with Earth or the Moon.

        • I'm not trying to anthropomorphize, actually. I know it's a theory of a natural process, not any sort of intelligence, will, etc.

          And I agre,e it shouldn't be used to moralize actions, and that is how things like eugenics get proposed, and that's exactly what I don't want.

          So, the subsequent question - where does the morality part come from?

          • Morality is a simple matter of what the majority of a culture agrees is beneficial or detrimental. This occasionally results in some fucked up shit, like human sacrifice, but for the most part ethical/moral foundations are cross-cultural.

            A lot of people don't seem to understand that this reduces in some occasionally quite 'meta' ways. A lot of things a culture may consider objectionable are tolerated precisely because that culture values the conceptual abstract of 'tolerance' more than it actually conside
          • If you knew this, why did you pose the question in the first place?

            Also, see ElectricTurtle's answer to your question on morality, I don't think I have anything to add to it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Jason Levine (196982)

          Stop anthropomorphizing evolution, it hates it when you do that.

      • Indeed it is a part of evolution, however humans have developed ways and means of changing the environment to our liking. For instance, I live in an apartment, not a cave.

        We can decide whether we'd prefer to kill off other species, or live in harmony with them. We can even preferentially keep species alive if we like them enough, even though they'd probably die out without our help.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Indeed it is a part of evolution, however humans have developed ways and means of changing the environment to our liking.

          And beavers build dams in order to change their environment to their liking.

          Termites build habitats for themselves with an internal environment to their liking.

          Ants, ditto.

          Your point was?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      after we've killed off a bunch of them.

      How can you be so calm when this study alone just wiped out an estimated 94.5% of all species on Earth?

  • by decipher_saint (72686) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:39AM (#32432446) Homepage

    Each more delicious than the last!

    Hmm... maybe I should have had breakfast this morning...

  • the Nanites and the self-aware computers finally hit their stride.
  • by theNAM666 (179776) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:45AM (#32432548)

    London, England. Today BP Chairman Johan Georing declared responsibilty for the recently discovered mass extinction of species on Planet Earth. "With 10 to 15 million down," Georing said, "we only have four or five million more to go. And just look how well we seem to be doing this month."

  • So they say there are 5.5 million species on earth and the World Resources Institute [berkeley.edu] Says 100 species are going extinct every day!

    So, by 2160 every species on earth will be extinct. Sounds good to me, lets eat!

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      Because linear extrapolation is always true.

      Loser species go first, who cares about these cows [wikipedia.org]?

      The toughest honorable species, like roaches will remain well beyond 2160. Hail Darwin!

    • by Wiarumas (919682)
      Sadly enough, that may be pretty accurate!
    • by Benfea (1365845) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:57AM (#32432742)

      Which obviously could not be the case. This is the same sort of erroneous statistics that lead to creationist "proofs" that the world is only 4,000/6,000/10,000 years old by assuming that the current human population growth rate is exactly the same as it has been throughout history and counting backwards.

    • That depends on whether we knock out a few very important species or not. kind of like the difference between knocking out a window and knocking out one of the support beams. One has very little impact; the other causes a collapse.

    • by ElKry (1544795)
      There is a difference between "100 species are going extinct every day" and "the number of species goes down by 100 every day". Spot it.
  • by intheshelter (906917) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:47AM (#32432574)
    It is obviously another propaganda attempt by the biodiversity denialists who are funded by the Big Zoo industry.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:48AM (#32432592)

    FTA:

    By looking at all of the beetles that live on a single tree species in Papua New Guinea, the researchers were able to extrapolate their numbers to a global scale.

    No, they thought they could extrapolate their numbers to a global scale. Luckily, they used only the most rigourous methods...

    This type of model is widely used in financial risk assessments, but has rarely been applied to ecology.

    Well perhaps not the most rigourous, more likely that type of model has never been applied to reality, but I digress. This smells like bullshit science and shouldn't be leant much credibility.

    • by vtcodger (957785)

      ***Well perhaps not the most rigourous, more likely that type of model has never been applied to reality, but I digress. This smells like bullshit science and shouldn't be leant much credibility.***

      You probably have it right. We take some shaky data from one tree in one place in the tropics using math similar to that that recently crashed the world's financial system (because it handles correlation inappropriately) we come up with a number. I think this can safely be filed next to the "bumblebees can't fl

  • by Fractal Dice (696349) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:18PM (#32433134) Journal

    But what definition of species does this estimate use? It may seem odd, but there really isn't a scientific consensus of how to define a "species". That's not to say there aren't strong opinions out there, but it tends to vary from field to field depending on what questions a particular group of biologists is trying to answer. When you actually dig down and look carefully, there are shades of gray and blurring of lines all over the place (as would be expected for a world that is constantly evolving - there's no clear day on which one species becomes two).

    (If you're trying to count species from the point of view of a billionaire with a Pokemon mindset, you're going to be disappointed because there will never have a perfect checklist for you to collect)

    • by alta (1263)

      I've always an issue with "species" Why exactly are grey breasted wren and a white breasted wren considered different species when a Chihuahua and a Great Dane considered different species? Yeah, the DNS testing may give you a difference, but back during darwin he didn't have that luxury. And try explaining to a 5 year old why those two wrens are different but those two dogs are the same.

    • More to the point, 'species' is an entirely human construction for classification of what we see, just like 'planet'. It's useful to us so we can discuss and learn about what's going on in the world. Nature has no concept of species whatsoever. Things that are more similar and live closer together interbreed more often; things that are less similar or live further away interbreed less often. It's all a huge continuum, and it's only us who are drawing lines and coming up with names for the stuff within t
    • by PPH (736903)

      It may seem odd, but there really isn't a scientific consensus of how to define a "species".

      How about a political one then? Here in the Pacific Northwest, salmon species are separated by their spawning habitat. Never mind that salmon do make mistakes and swim up the wrong creek (or newly dug irrigation ditch) from time to time, interbreed and create more robust genetically diverse populations. Or forget about hatchery raised fish. Those are a species unto themselves. Even though they were raised from wild stock taken from local streams.

      These definitions are necessary to ensure that every populati

  • by cenc (1310167) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:25PM (#32433262) Homepage

    Let me see if I understand their methods. If we take some sort of statistical sample with trees common to the deserts in Africa (let's say two Beatles named Ringo and Paul live in all of them), we can also determine the number of species on Earth? What happens if we pick a tree species where no Beatles or any species lives? Hell, what if we start with a desert with no trees or life at all? How about the poles? How many Beatles live in them apple trees?

    The statistical likelihood of BS seems very high.

  • by hallucinogen (1263152) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:27PM (#32433298)
    The study doesn't take into account bacteria, archaea nor unicellular eukaryotes. That's where by far most of biodiversity (species count and number of genes and metabolic pathways) and biomass (carbon and nutrients) lie. Typical macroworld arrogance :(
  • I'm not saying the researchers didn't do their homework, but for something of this gravity, I would have expected Science or Nature to pick it up, not American Naturalist. Not that American Naturalist is a bad journal, but its certainly easier to get a paper in there than other journals (even Ecology, if I'm not mistaken). In light of that, I'm a bit skeptical of their claims.

  • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:43PM (#32433550) Homepage Journal

    It's largely a matter of convention. Wolves hybridize with coyotes to produce viable offspring ... but the two species are genetically, behaviorally and ecologically distinct (in most places) so it seems reasonable to treat them as different species.

    Insect species are often split based on tiny morphological details, even where the two populations hybridize. Other times they are organized into "subspecies", or species within a genus are organized into "subgenera".

    What might make more sense is some kind of measure of genetic entropy. That would also count low species diversity, as in cases of species that pass through genetic bottlenecks (e.g. cheetahs), and so which represent a less stable population.

  • Great, just great. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jawnn (445279) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:47PM (#32433662)

    How many species share our planet? According to a recalculation by an international research team, the number is significantly lower than we thought - only around 5.5 million...

    Cue the science deniers in 3...2...1...
    ...breathlessly observing that, "Once again, science has proven that it can't be trusted..."

  • What's in a number? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thomasje (709120) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:58PM (#32433856)
    I'm pretty suspicious of those numbers. I mean, I keep hearing things like X thousand species going extinct each year, or umpteen bazillion species of insects found in one square mile of Amazon rainforest, and I can't help but wonder: *really*? Did they actually try to interbreed any of those bugs to make sure they were different species and not just slightly different-looking individuals from the same species? I'd love to know what criteria are being used there. I suspect that, with such large numbers being bandied about, while the line between what's a species boundary and what isn't isn't always very clear, even the various races of humans or breeds of dogs could be mis-identified as separate species rather than intra-species diversity.

    Disclaimer: I'm not trying to discredit the dangers of biodiversity loss, but I have real trouble assigning any real meaning to the notion of "millions of species", and I don't think that those numbers are doing much to win over eco-skeptics either. The real issue to me seems to be overall genetic diversity and the need to preserve it; how many "species" you pigeonhole that diversity into has very little practical relevance and is probably impossible to do properly anyway.

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