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A Third of Marine Species Remain Undescribed

SDSU biology professor is one of 270 authors of first-ever comprehensive register of the world's marine species.
Getty Images: Walter Frame
Getty Images: Walter Frame

At least one-third of the species that inhabit the world’s oceans may remain completely unknown to science, a new study says.

The study is the first comprehensive register of marine species of the world. The register was authored through a massive collaborative effort by hundreds of researchers from around the globe, including San Diego State University biology professor Annalisa Berta.

Berta contributed in identifying some of the 226,000 species that have so far been described in the register. There are another 65,000 species awaiting description in specimen collections.

The researchers estimate that the ocean may be home to as many as one million species in all—likely not more.

Pathway to conservation

The findings provide a reference point for conservation efforts and estimates of extinction rates, the researchers say. They expect that the vast majority of unknown species — composed disproportionately of smaller crustaceans, molluscs, worms and sponges — will be found this century.

Earlier estimates of ocean diversity had relied on expert polls based on extrapolations from past rates of species descriptions and other measures. Those estimates varied widely, suffering because there was no global catalog of marine species.

About the World Register of Marine Species

The World Register of Marine Species is an open access, online database created by 270 experts representing 146 institutions and 32 countries. It is now 95 percent complete and is continually being updated as new species are discovered.

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