Among mammals, just over 6,500 species are known. It is said that hundreds of other species are waiting to be discovered. This refers to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It is estimated that only 80 percent of all mammals that roam our planet have been discovered and described as a species. It is assumed that the unknown group mainly concerns small mammals such as bats, moles, and shrews. Some may be especially good at hiding, but others may have been spotted multiple times.
However, the latter group was not identified as a new species because it is very similar to similar animals within the same family. “It’s hard to notice the tiny nuances if you’re a small animal weighing no more than 10 grams,” says evolutionary biologist Brian Karstens of The Ohio State University. “You can only identify differences between species if you do a genetic analysis.”
1 million genetic sequences
And why do 20 percent or 100 species still have to be discovered? What is this number based on? The researchers spared no expense: of the 6,500 known species, they analyzed the genetic sequences of about 4,300. In total, nearly one million genetic sequences were involved. They also took into account where the animals lived, what their environment looked like and when they were discovered and described.
All this data was compared with each other using a “supercomputer”. Karstens concludes, “Based on this analysis, it is expected that up to a third of the species analyzed harbor undescribed diversity.”
Where are those hundreds of species still hiding?
Many biologists around the world have already suspected that hundreds of species have yet to be described. “But what’s new is that we also predicted where these species often remain.” According to the research team, the habitat of the unknown species should be large enough and large so that it is also diverse. After all, a diverse habitat would ensure a species’ diversity and (genetically) adaptation to small differences in its environment. That’s why researchers believe that most species are found primarily in tropical rainforests. It’s also where most species live anyway.
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