Fewer than 2 million species have been properly collected, identified and classified and given a name. Based on this, and what is known about the distribution of species in forests, oceans and other environments, scientists believe there are probably around 10 million or more species out there to be identified. Most of these are small creatures but it is still fairly common that a new plant, bird, fish, mammal or other vertebrate is also found. All species have taken many millions of years to evolve, and they all play particular roles in the ecosystems in which they live. So while we still have a long way to go in identifying all species, we can see where species are being lost. We know this is at a rate much faster than evolution can replace them, so we also know there is real cause for concern.
The variety of life we are losing contains crucial genetic resources on which we rely for the development of medicines and for the development of our crops and farm animals. Equally important, the natural ecosystems of the world made up of this diversity provide our oxygen to breathe, distribute and clean water, provide fertile soils as well as a host of other services upon which humans depend, including buffering the environments from the extremes of climate.
Dr Robert Bloomfield, co-ordinator, IYB-UK