The latest State of Observed Species (SOS) 2011 report was published this week. All of the species discovered in 2009 (19,232), whether fossil or living, extant or almost extinct in some cases, are all there. Arizona State University's International Institute for Species Exploration has even produced a top ten and a retro list.
What is fascinating is that in this shrinking ecology we have, more and more animals and plants are found, even as we erase them through habitat loss. New species come and new species go.
We see new snakes and bacteria, orchids and beetles (no, not them) but we have little chance of visiting the areas where they live. These habitats are often rapidly disappearing, despite the fact that next year even more species will be found. The puzzle is just how many were there before we started changing the planet's naturally diverse ecosystems.
Of the insects, more than half of the total numbers of course, the most publicised was the chimaeric jumping cockroach from Table Mountain. Spiders kept up the chase from Madagascar with the web gigantism of Darwin's bark spider (top). Their silk is now prized as 10X tougher than Kevlar with a strength of up to 520 megajoules per cubic metre!
Lepanthes orchid example via Shutterstock
Plants of course don't have the charisma of cute beasties. 2,184 were discovered, making up 11.3% of all species. Perhaps, new orchids stir us more than most as 418 new species of Lepanthes, Stelis and Epidendrum were found!
The fish gave us many new perches, including microscopic gobies and some cichlids, while the Amphibia comprised 133 new frogs. Perhaps salamanders and newts are more secretive. Mammals numbered 41 new species, despite their size, but they were mainly rodents and bats (83%).
Sadly the birds found numbered seven, with many more being found as fossils (34). That speaks volumes about the state of our fauna, in vivid contrast to the quite encouraging numbers of hard-to-spot animals and plants.
Reptiles used 20 Colubrid snakes to move up the league table of numbers with 38 lizards, 29 elusive geckos, 12 iguana, five chameleons and even 2 turtle species. On my first day of next Christmas, I want two turtle species!
Word cloud for those who like to study hard (with a microscope for those poor sedges); Credit: International Institute for Species Exploration/Arizona State University
In addition, lots of mushrooms, including one intrepid underwater specimen, and bacteria to fill a large planet were found. The fossils played a steady game, with 1905 new species. All in all, the "retro-review" of the last ten years discoveries relates that we had 176, 311 new spp. The word cloud below is a colourful reminder of the numbers of each group involved and a tribute to all the nomenclature that has diligently succeeded in accomplishing Linnaeus' dream.