Highlighting the value of sites through new species discoveries

Knowledge of biodiversity on a global scale remains woefully limited, with only a fraction of the world’s species having been described to date. The taxonomic description of new species is of fundamental importance to further our understanding of the diversity of life on Earth. Additionally, new species descriptions are also an effective means of highlighting the conservation value of a particular location, as hosting a newly-discovered organism that has never been previously recorded by scientists confers a significant degree of prestige. This in turn can be an excellent means of generating media attention for an area. Scientists working within the Trust’s research sites have made many important taxonomic discoveries, with 56 new species to science having been described to date.

Funding for this project is secured via our research partners at Operation Wallacea.

“With the support of the Wallacea Trust and Indonesian researchers at Universitas Halu Oleo, our teams have been lucky enough to explore the Sulawesi mainland and its offshore islands, including areas that were poorly known, even at the end of the 20th century. Incredibly we discovered new bird species! Yet, as pressures increase to exploit the local resources it becomes inevitable that some species may not even be recognised before they become extinct. We hope our work will help to highlight the need for conservation across Sulawesi and beyond.”

While estimates regarding the number of species currently existing on Earth are a matter of debate, a common consensus is that global diversity lies somewhere between 12 and 18 million species, of which around 1.7 million have been described by scientists. This means that, even if the most conservative diversity estimates are accepted, more than 85% of species on Earth remain to be discovered. This gap between the number of species described and the number of species that actually exist is known as the Linnean shortfall. The existence of this shortfall is important, not just in terms of it representing a lack of theoretical knowledge, but also because it is very hard to design effective strategies to protect global biodiversity when we are not even sure how many species occur on Earth, and in which ecosystems they can be found!

As well as reducing the Linnean shortfall globally, the description of new species can also have direct conservation benefits for the site in which they were discovered. This is because the description of a new species often generates significant media attention, which can be harnessed to draw attention to a site and any environmental issues it may face. Additionally, newly-described species are, by their nature, usually entirely restricted to the single site in which they are found. This means that sites with new species descriptions also de facto support micro-endemics that, as far as scientific knowledge can predict, do not occur anywhere else, thus raising the overall conservation value of that site.

Our affiliated science teams have proven very effective at describing new species from our sites. To date our sites have yielded 56 new taxonomic descriptions; 14 vertebrates, 4 plants, and 38 invertebrates. This total spans species descriptions from each of the major tropical zones (Neotropics, Afrotropics, Indo-Malayan tropics and Australasian tropics), and includes spectacular finds such as several entirely new bird species (of which only a few are described globally each year) and some species which have subsequently been listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. We anticipate the description of many more new species in the coming years, as our organization grows in scale and scope.