8.7 Million Species Run Spaceship Earth and Our Life Support System

Charonia tritonis Credit: David Burdick

We share the planet with 8.7 million species. We’re unconcerned about the ongoing loss of 200 species a day since we fail to realize they are our life support system. And we don’t know how many or which species are needed to keep things running. There is metaphor in the article to make that clearer I hope. We are not even close to coming to grips with this issue.  — Stephen

“If the decline in species around us is not significant then I ask what is?”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 23, 2011 (IPS)

 The life support system that generates the planet’s air, water, and food is powered by 8.7 million living species according to the newest and best estimate. We know next to nothing about 99 percent of those unique species – except that lots of them are going extinct.

“It is like a complicated engine where we only know about the major pieces. If we lose one or some of the small hidden pieces that play a critical role the engine might stop working,” said Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

Many species may vanish before we even know of their existence, of their unique niche and function in ecosystems,” Mora told IPS.

Until now there wasn’t even a decent guesstimate about how many species exist currently: three million? 100 million? Now a new validated analytical technique has pined down the big number to 8.7 million species (give or take 1.3 million).

The analysis published Tuesday in the journal ‘PLoS Biology’ estimated there are 6.5 million species found on land and 2.2 million – about 25 percent of the total – dwelling in the ocean depths.

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“Not knowing the answer to this fundamental question really highlights our ignorance about life on this planet,” said Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, co-author of the study along with Mora.

“We’re so fixated on the human enterprise we don’t recognise nature’s enterprise… the 8.7 million species that run the planet and provide the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we grow our crops in,” Worm told IPS. “If the decline in species around us is not significant then I ask what is? This is all we have on this planet, the only planet that holds life.” Continue reading

Ten-Year Probe Reveals Oceans in Peril

sea-anemoneBy Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 11 (IPS) – A thousand points of light are being shone into the dark ocean depths as scientists from 82 countries work to complete the decade-long global research effort called the Census of Marine Life.

“It’s been a remarkable time of exciting new discoveries and frightening revelations of how quickly the oceans are changing,” said Canadian deep-sea biologist Paul Snelgrove, a leader of a team integrating findings from all 17 census projects.

“We were startled to discover small crustaceans never seen by scientists before completely blanketing the seafloor at 500 metres in the Gulf of Mexico,” Snelgrove told IPS.

And during the eight years the census has run so far, scientists have documented that more than 90 percent of the oceans’ top predators — large sharks, tunas, swordfish, cod and others — are now gone and those remaining are in serious trouble. “We’re also seeing evidence of climate change with the shifting distribution of species,” he said. Continue reading