A million species of animals and plants live in the ocean say scientists

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

The first official register of what lives in the oceans has revealed that the marine environment may be home to as many as a million species of animals and plants, but only about a quarter of them have actually been formally described.

Previous estimates of the number of species living in the oceans have ranged wildly from a few hundred thousand of several million, but the latest estimate is based on the first proper attempt to draw up an accurate inventory of marine life.

Although more ocean species have been discovered in the past decade than in any previous 10-year period – and about 65,000 newly “discovered” species are still waiting to be given formal scientific names – scientists believe that at least a third of all the marine life forms may be completely unknown to science.

The World Register of Marine Species, an on-line international database, has been put together by 270 marine biologists from 146 institutions in 32 countries in an attempt to answer the age-old question: what lives in the sea?

It found that about 226,000 species have been formally described by scientists – about 20,000 in the last decade alone – but that the total number could be three or four times higher, although unlikely to be more than a million as some previous estimates have suggested.

“More species than ever before are being described annually by an increasing number of [scientists]. If the current trend continues, most species will be discovered this century,” the scientists say in a study published in the journal Current Biology.

“The question of how many marine species exist is important because it provides a metric of how much we do and do not know about life in the oceans. We have compiled the first register of the marine species in the world and used this baseline to estimate how many more species…may be discovered,” they say.

One of the biggest obstacles to working out the total number of marine species is the problem of synonyms – many animals and plants have been given more than one name, and in some cases multiple names.

“The occurrence of as yet unrecognised synonyms is one of the most significant problems in estimating the true number of described species,” the study says.

The sperm whale of Moby Dick fame, for instance, has 19 synonyms, nine of which were given to the species by just three experts, the study found.

Another problem was that some species have in fact been found when analysed genetically to consist of two species.

The killer whale and the common bottlenose dolphin, for instance, have each been split into two or more species as a result of genetic analysis.

“For the first time, we can provide a very detailed overview of species richness, partitioned among all major marine groups. It is the state of the art of what we know – and perhaps do not know – about life in the ocean,” said Ward Appeltans of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
peopleJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Systems Analyst (Retail)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Up to 20% bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An...

Head of Digital Marketing,London

To £58k Contract 12 months: Charter Selection: Major household name charity se...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Technical Manager / Lead - Mechanical.

£43000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading Br...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice