World known species rises to 1.9 million, report says

Tue Sep 29, 2009 3:56am EDT
 
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CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - The world's only catalog of known plants and animals has listed 1.9 million species globally, a rise of 114,000 on a study done three years ago, Australian researchers said Tuesday.

The number of currently accepted and described species had jumped 6.3 percent from 1,786,000 last described in 2006, Australia's Environment Minister Peter Garrett said, releasing the Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World report in Cairns.

"The report shows that the science of species discovery is alive and well," Garrett told reporters.

Australia held one of the most diverse collections, with 87 percent of its mammals and 93 percent of reptiles found nowhere else, including iconic kangaroos and koalas.

The report updated the number of Australian species for the first time in two decades, listing 48 new reptiles, eight frogs, eight mammals, 1,184 flowering plants and 904 new species of spiders, mites and scorpions.

But one in five species were at serious risk of extinction as Australia, the world's driest inhabited continent, experiences what scientists say is an unusually rapid pace of climate warming, Garrett said.

"We need this essential information to do a better job of managing our biodiversity against the threats of invasive species, habitat loss and climate change," he said.

Around 18,000 new species were being described each year by researchers, the study said, with 75 percent of those listed in 2007 being invertebrates, 11 percent plants and 7 percent listed as vertebrate animals.

The report said the job of cataloguing species was nowhere near complete, with the world's total number of species estimated at between 5 million and 50 million.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Miral Fahmy)