We usually draw up maps to document what we know, but even after centuries of effort, our catalog of living things still has too many blank pages. In times of crisis, this new “map of the unknown” could save what can still be saved.
A card to save cash
Nine years ago, researchers at Yale University established a “map of life” aimed at offering models of biodiversity in a geographic context. In reality, it is a heat map of animal life. From now on, these same researchers propose to define the terrestrial zones likely to shelter the unknown species of science. The goal is that these animals can be documented before they disappear.
“Conservative estimates suggest that only 13-18% of all living species are known at this stage, although this number can be as low as 1.5%“, Explain the authors. “Without inclusion in conservation decision-making and other international commitments, these species [non découvertes] and their functions can be lost forever in ignorance“.
Isolate potential cradles of discovery
As part of this work, published in the journal Nature’s ecology and evolution, the researchers relied on more than 32,000 species from four different animal classes (amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds) to try to determine the number of still undiscovered species, as well as their potential areas of evolution.
“By using models to identify the biological and environmental factors of recent discoveries, we are able to make fairly reliable predictions about the share of future discoveries that might occur in reasonably large groups of species (e.g. families. amphibians) and regions (for example, the Atlantic Forest Region of Brazil)“, Details Walter Jetz, main author of this work.
Thanks to these models, the researchers found it unsurprisingly that many species were still uncatalogued on Earth. These would be found especially in the rainforests of Southeast Asia and northwestern South America. These new data thus reinforce the urgent need to protect these potential “cradles of discovery” by limiting the rates of deforestation.
In the future, this new data may also lead research teams to look specifically at areas where they are more likely to encounter unknown species. The cartographic product can be seen here.
“It is a fascinating project that brings together a multitude of datasets on the distribution of species and allows us to better understand the models of biodiversity on the planet.“, Emphasizes Mario Moura, biologist at the University of Paraíba in Brazil. “We hope to motivate citizen scientists and biodiversity enthusiasts on the importance of species discovery and trigger discussion and agreement on the part of those responsible for decision-making and conservation planning.“.