News & AnalysisBiodiversity

8.7 Million: A New Estimate for All the Complex Species on Earth

Science  26 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6046, pp. 1083
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6046.1083

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Summary

The planet must hold a limited, not infinite, number of plants, animals, fungi, and other complex species. But as scientists have tried to pin down that number for close to 2 centuries, their estimates have ranged wildly from fewer than a million to about 100 million. Now, a novel type of analysis, which takes advantage of an apparently natural mathematical pattern in the biodiversity produced by evolution, has settled on a tally of 8.7 million eukaryotic species, give or take a million. Many researchers find the case for this latest estimate, outlined online 23 August in PLoS Biology, convincing, though not the final word.