• A new interactive map can predict where as-yet-undiscovered species might be found.
  • Scientists analyzed 32,000 existing species to predict where we might find the next ones.
  • Finding new species is the key to protecting them.
  • Around 40% of the world’s economy is thought to be contingent on biodiversity.

Humans have only discovered and described around 20% of the species on Earth.

This means that as much as 80% of life has still to be found – and then protected for future generations.

Now scientists have created an interactive map using existing species to predict where the next ones might be discovered.

Writing in the journal, Nature Ecology & Evolution, Mario Moura and Walter Jetz identify diversity hotspots where we are most likely to find new species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Tropical forests in countries including Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and Colombia have the richest potential for new species, according to their study, Shortfalls and opportunities in terrestrial vertebrate species discovery.

image of the interactive map which highlights hotspots where new species are most likely to be found
The interactive map highlights hotspots where new species are most likely to be found.
Image: Yale News

“At the current pace of global environmental change, there is no doubt that many species will go extinct before we have ever learned about their existence and had the chance to consider their fate,” says Jetz, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University.

A diagram to show the predicted future discovery potential across the major species
The predicted future discovery potential across the major species.
Image: Shortfalls and opportunities in terrestrial vertebrate species discovery, Nature Ecology & Evolution

Earth’s biodiversity puzzle

His project, with lead author Moura, involved compiling data over two years on 11 key factors of about 32,000 known terrestrial vertebrates. This included location, geographical range, habitat, discovery dates and biological characteristics.

Analyzing this data allowed them to extrapolate where and what kinds of unknown species of the four main vertebrate groups were most likely to yet be identified.

“Finding the missing pieces of the Earth’s biodiversity puzzle is crucial to improve biodiversity conservation worldwide,” says Moura, a professor at the Federal University of Paraíba in Brazil.

With partners worldwide, Jetz and colleagues plan to expand their map of undiscovered life to plant, marine and invertebrate species in the coming years.

How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?

How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?

In the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields, and all of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits.

These trends have reduced diversity in our diets, which is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition.

One initiative which is bringing a renewed focus on biological diversity is the Tropical Forest Alliance.

This global public-private partnership is working on removing deforestation from four global commodity supply chains – palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

The Alliance includes businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people and communities, and international organizations.

Enquire to become a member or partner of the Forum and help stop deforestation linked to supply chains.

Why biodiversity matters

Biodiversity – the variety of life on Earth – supports the ecosystems that humans rely on, such as fresh water, pollination and soil fertility.

Nature can also help combat climate change. For example, forests absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise warm the atmosphere.

Around 40% of the world’s economy is thought to be contingent on biological resources – and if biodiversity losses continue at their current rate, the food, forestry and ecotourism industries could lose $338 billion per year.