Now, I know I was remiss in not posting about International Day for Biological Diversity, which was on May 22nd. However, the one advantage to being behind in posting things is that I’ve had a chance to collect a ton of links about this over the past week! A lot of my favorite sites, like Ecoworldly, National Geographic, Mongabay News, and Science Daily have all put together thoughtful posts on Arizona State University’s major biodiversity announcement from last month.

So, without further ado, the Top 10 Species of 2008:

  1. A Palm that Flowers Itself to Death: Tahina Palm (Tahina spectabilis)
  2. Phantastic Phasmatid: The world’s longest insect with a body length of 14 inches and an overall length of 22.3 inches (Phobaeticus chani)
  3. Pea-sized Pony: Satomi’s Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus satomiae), only 0.54 inches long
  4. A Mere Thread of a Snake: Barbados Threadsnake (Leptotyphlops carlae)
  5. Welsh Rare Bit: Ghost Slug (Selenochlamys ysbryda)
  6. A Snail that’s Whorls Apart: A gastropod with four different coiling axes (Opisthostoma vermiculum)
  7. Finding Nemo’s True Blue Cousin: Deep Blue Chromis (Chromis abyssus)
  8. Devonian Delivery: Mother Fish (Materpiscis attenboroughi)
  9. No Jump in this Bean: caffeine-free Charrier Coffee (Coffea charrieriana)
  10. Spray-on New Species: new species of extremophile bacteria (Microbacterium hatanonis)

The Top Ten were selected by an international committee of taxon experts, including scientists from various universities, museums, and biodiversity organizations. The university also released its State of Observed Species report card (SOS) on human knowledge of Earth’s species. In 2007, 18,516 species new to science were discovered and described.

Now, 18,000 is an astonishing number. It seems unbelievable that there are that many species out there unaccounted for by modern science, since we have arsenals of scientists working on describing species constantly. Let’s take a look at the breakdown, shall we? This graph from the report shows that of those 18,516 species, 50.8% are insects, 11.1% are vascular plants, 6.7% are vertebrates, 6.4% are arachnida, 5.2% are mollusca, 4.5% are crustacea, 3.4% are prokaryotes, 3.2% are protozoa, and 8.6% are other animals.

Across all living and fossil vertebrates, the fishes (including conodonts) comprise the largest group of newly described species (44%). It should again be noted that this year’s vertebrates include a significant number of newly described fossil species: 39% of the reptiles; 79% of the mammals; 81% of the birds and 100% of the newly described conodonts were fossils. (Emphasis is mine)

Ah, fossils! That explains it. The report defines “new species” as “species newly known to science.” Some of the species are newly discovered in the field, but, “In other cases specimens have existed in museums or herbaria for many years and have only now been recognized as new.” Since I’m partial to mammals, let’s run the numbers…
6.7% of 18,516 are vertebrates = ~1, 240
Of these, 17.8% are mammals = ~221
Of these, 79% are fossils, so 21% are presumably living species = ~46

Okay, I’m still impressed! 46 new species of living mammals seems like a lot, actually. I wonder how many of those will soon be listed as threatened?