Ecologists are involved in Mapping throughout life On Earth, we’ve now taken the next step: predicting where life we don’t know awaits its discovery. As a first step, they created an interactive environment. a map Diversity hotspots show a richer potential for new species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. they Row the Results today at Ecology and the evolution of nature.
“Unknown species are generally excluded from conservation planning, management and decision making,” says co-author Mario Mora, an ecologist at the Federal University of Paraíba. “If we want to improve the conservation of biodiversity around the world, we need to know better about their species.”
Mora never liked the fact that about 85% of the species of creatures on Earth have yet to be described. Then in 2018, a recent PhD graduate in ecology teamed up with Yale University ecologist Walter Getz to discover a way to better predict where these unknowns are. “The chances of catching and describing them early are not the same between species,” explains Mora. For example, scientists are more likely to have documented large mammals that live near humans compared to the tiny frogs that live in a remote jungle.
Over two years, Mora and Getz collected data on size, habitat and nine other traits, including the number of taxonomists who studied them, for 32,000 known vertebrates. Using a computer model, they determined the likelihood that an organism with different combinations of these features would be detected, or would be, detected, and where. “Our approach uses known species to predict unknown species,” says Mora.
They predict that some places, such as Guinea forests in West Africa and many islands in Southeast Asia, are likely to be rich in nondescript organisms because they have a high density of species, but are relatively inaccessible. More than 10% of the world’s unknown terrestrial vertebrates are found in Brazil; Madagascar, Colombia and Indonesia each account for 5%, according to Mora and Getz. Overall, these discovery hotspots account for only 10% of the land area on Earth, but they contain roughly 70% of expected future discoveries of new species, they note.
The researchers report that many of these discoveries will be made in tropical forests and will reveal many frogs, lizards, amphibians and other reptiles, accounting for three-quarters of what remains unknown. Among mammals, they hope to spot more rodents, bats and monkeys; Among the birds, perhaps a few songbirds.
A new “species discoverability” map can help guide conservation planning, Getz says. “I see a great opportunity for discoveries to help implement limited resources more efficiently and time for exploration work.” Researchers can use maps, for example, to identify areas most vulnerable to climate change, in order to better understand impacts.
Meanwhile, the cartographers say they’re not done. Next, they hope to develop similar maps that could help scientists find and describe thousands of plant and invertebrate species.
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