Counting Creatures: A Tally of All Earth Life

An international group of scientists has launched an initiative to record all the species living on Earth.

Humans have named every star in the Milky Way and have mapped every gene in the human body. Yet, scientists have no idea how many plants, animals, and microbes share our planet. This gap in biological knowledge, according to Academy provost Terry Gosliner, is like trying to do chemistry while "knowing only one third of the periodic table."

To address this void, scientists from around the world met at the Academy late last year and devised an ambitious plan: to find, describe, and classify every living organism on the planet. And to do it within one generation, or about 25 years.

Topobea intricata of the princess flower family
A recently described species Topobea intricata Almeda, of the princess flower family occurs in central Costa Rica and Western Panama growing only in forests that receive well over 100 inches of rain per year.
Photo: Frank Almeda

For more information about the All Species Inventory visit www.all-species.org. The Foundation recently named Brian Boom, former Vice President for Botanical Science at the New York Botanical Gardens, as Executive Director.

New species of Pacifigora (seafan or gorgonian octocoral)
A newly discovered and as yet undescribed species of Pacifigora (seafan or gorgonian octocoral) from the Galapagos Islands. Two mimics can also be seen - an ovulid snail and a pontonid shrimp.
Photo: Gary C. Williams

The time is now, and the window of opportunity is small, says the group, which established the nonprofit organization All Species Foundation to head the inventory. While we have advanced enough technologically to plumb the far corners of the world, identify the microscopic, and share information with the global community, species are disappearing at an unprecedented rate.

This comprehensive inventory will for the first time give scientists a full set of tools to elucidate the intricate relationships between species, identify conservation priorities, and discover tomorrow's medicines.

New wolf snake, Colubridae family, discovered in Myanmar
A new wolf snake of the family Colubridae just discovered in Western Burma (Myanmar) last year.
Photo: Hla Tun