The natural people contains around 8.7 million species, according to a new estimate described by researchers as the most accurate ever.

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But the vast majority have no been identified - and also cataloguing them all might take more than 1,000 years.

The number comes from studying relationships between the branches and leaves that the "family tree of life".

The team advises in the newspaper PLoS Biology that many species will become extinct before they can be studied.

Although the variety of species top top the planet could seem an noticeable figure come know, a way to calculation it through confidence has actually been elusive.

In a commentary also carried in PLoS Biology, previous Royal society president mr (Robert) may observes: "It is a exceptional testament come humanity's narcissism that we recognize the variety of books in the us Library of congress on 1 February 2011 was 22,194,656, however cannot tell friend - to in ~ an order of size - how plenty of distinct species of plants and also animals we share our human being with."

"We've been thinking around this for number of years now - we've had actually a look at a variety of different approaches, and also didn't have any success," among the research team, Derek Tittensor, told News.

Dr Tittensor, that is based in ~ the UN setting Programme's world Conservation surveillance Centre (Unep-WCMC) and Microsoft research in Cambridge, UK, functioned on the job alongside partner from Dalhousie university in Canada and the university of Hawaii.

The vast majority of the 8.7 million space animals, with increasingly smaller numbers of fungi, plants, protozoa (a group of single-celled organisms) and chromists (algae and other micro-organisms).

About 1.2 million species have been formally described, the vast majority from the land rather than the oceans.

The cheat this team provided was come look in ~ the connection between species and the more comprehensive groupings to which lock belong.

In 1758, sweden biologist Carl Linnaeus arisen a comprehensive system that taxonomy, together the ar is known, i beg your pardon is tho - with modifications - in usage today.

Groups of carefully related varieties belong to the same genus, which consequently are clustered into families, climate orders, then classes, then phyla, and also finally into kingdoms (such as the pet kingdom).

The higher up this hierarchical tree that life you look, the rarer new discoveries end up being - solid surprising, together a discovery of a new species will certainly be much much more common than the discovery of a totally brand-new phylum or class.

The researchers quantified the relationship between the exploration of brand-new species and also the exploration of new higher groups such as phyla and orders, and then supplied it to predict how many species there are likely to be.

"We discovered that, using numbers from the greater taxonomic groups, we can predict the number of species," said Dalhousie researcher Sina Adl.

"The strategy accurately suspect the number of species in numerous well-studied groups such together mammals, fishes and also birds, providing confidence in the method."

If this is correct, then just 14% of the world's types have yet been figured out - and only 9% that those in the oceans.


Image caption, The price of types discovery has remained around even ever due to the fact that Haeckel compiled his Kunstformen der Natur (Art develops of Nature) a century ago

"The remainder are primarily going come be smaller organisms, and also a large proportion of them will certainly be populated in locations that are difficult to reach or hard to sample, prefer the deep oceans," said Dr Tittensor.

"But as soon as you go to a tropical rainforest, it's easy to find new insects, and when you walk to the deep sea and pull increase a trawl, 90% of what you acquire can be undiscovered species."

At current rates that discovery, perfect the catalogue would take over 1,000 year - but brand-new techniques such together DNA bar-coding can speed things up.

The researchers say they carry out not expect their calculations to mark the finish of this heat of inquiry, and are feather to partner to refine methods and conclusions.

One that has already looked through the paper is Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation program at the Zoological society of London (ZSL).

"I think it's absolutely a an imaginative and put in order approach, but like every other technique there space potential biases and I think it's more than likely a conservative figure," he told News.

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"But it's such a high figure that it wouldn't really matter if it's out by one or two million either way.

"It is yes, really picking increase this suggest that we know very small about the varieties with which us share the planet; and also we space converting the Earth's natural landscapes for this reason quickly, with total ignorance the our affect on the life in them."