[Taxacom] species loss: 20 years after Rio

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Wed Apr 25 22:07:40 CDT 2012

The Hubbell paper made it into BBC.  It is sad to see where we stand after
20 years. We have done more work, we developed an impressive array if
biodiversity informatics, we have tools to capture specimens in our
collections and make the data accessible, but the basic we are missing: A
strategy to explore the living planet, and even less a strategy to measure
the change of species based at least on a basic count of what's out there.


May be we should give up this challenge and return to our ivory tower to
describe yet another exciting new life form that makes it into the main
media rather than get our acts together and act as a global observatory,
that is all our many research institutions (herbaria, natural history
collections, etc. and its main funders, the government) get together to
rethink on how to react to this grand challenge as a consortium.






Biodiversity loss: How accurate are the numbers?



"Twenty years ago, the Earth Summit in Rio resulted in a Convention on
Biological Diversity, now signed by 193 nations, to prevent species loss.
But can we tell how many species are becoming extinct?

One statement on the Convention's website claims: "We are indeed
experiencing the greatest wave of extinction since the disappearance of the

While that may (or may not) be true, the next sentence is spuriously
precise: "Every hour three species disappear. Every day up to 150 species
are lost." 

Even putting aside the apparent mathematical error in that claim (on the
face of it, if three species are disappearing every hour, 72 would be lost
every day) there is an obvious problem in generating any such number. No-one
knows how many species exist. And if we don't know a species exists, we
won't miss it when it's gone.


It is possible to count the number of species known to be extinct. The
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does just that. It has
listed 801 animal and plant species (mostly animal) known to have gone
extinct since 1500. 

But if it's really true that up to 150 species are being lost every day,
shouldn't we expect to be able to name more than 801 extinct species in 512



According to IUCN data, for example, only one animal has been definitely
identified as having gone extinct since 2000. It was a mollusc.



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