New species: Why masses of newly identified animals have been hiding in plain sight

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Cutting-edge analyzes reveal that there are more mammal species than we thought, with thousands more lurking in plain sight. These discoveries could be key to saving biodiversity and preventing future pandemics

Life


August 17, 2022


Harriet Lee Merrion

Bats are the most charismatic species that exist,” says Bryan Carsten, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University in Columbus. Here is an animal that evolved from the same ancestor as us and yet most species now fly, chasing insects in the dark by screaming at them and listening for echoes. They live for decades, longer than other mammals of their size, and they are extremely social.

For Carstens, bats are also fascinating for another reason: there are hundreds of unidentified species lurking in plain sight. By scrutinizing the genes of the 1400 types of bats we know, he and his colleagues discovered 600 new ones. And these hidden species, which were mistakenly lumped together with others, are just the tip of the iceberg, as Carstens and his team have identified thousands of extinct mammals.

We shouldn’t be too surprised. It is estimated that between 90 and 99% of all living species have not yet been identified. It is also becoming apparent that many new species have already been collected, but languish unrecognized in museums and other institutes. In other words, our knowledge of life on Earth is pitiful. Yet, through their ingenuity and hard work, researchers have found a way to reveal the many species we have missed.

It doesn’t happen too soon. Our activities are causing a mass extinction rivaling that which killed the dinosaurs, and we urgently need to know what species exist if we are to hope to reverse this destruction of biodiversity.

Listing nature is not an easy task. …

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