One barrier to protecting biodiversity is that there are no good ways of figuring out how many species there are in large areas. Now we may finally be able to find out: a new method accurately predicts the total number of North American butterfly species even when only a tenth of the ecoregions are sampled.
Western admiral, Limenitis weidemeyerii, near Gothic, Colorado (courtesy of Taylor H. Ricketts)
This could "at last enable ecology to estimate worldwide species diversity," say Michael Rosenzweig, Will Turner and Jonathan Cox of the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Taylor Ricketts of Stanford University in Stanford, California, and the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, DC, in the June issue of Conservation Biology.
While conservationists can predict how many species there are within a single habitat, the usefulness of this approach is limited because its impossible to sample all the habitats in large areas. Knowing the number of species is critical to tracking – and addressing -- declines in biodiversity. "Right now we can only guess that the correct answer for the total number of species worldwide lies between 2 and 100 million," says Rosenzweig.
Michael Rosenzweig | EurekAlert!
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