Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Rate of New Species Discoveries

Since I started this blog five years ago, I have read and posted about new species discoveries numerous times, such as the Spectacled Flowerpecker earlier this year or the Limestone Leaf Warbler from last year. But how many new species are being discovered, and how does this compare with past discoveries? Further, are we likely to see more species discoveries in the future? Luckily, Nick Sly of Biological Ramblings has tried to answer those questions in a series of blog posts. In the first, he looks at rates of discovery by year and decade. In the second, he assesses common characteristics of species discovered since 1942. A third post breaks down recent discoveries by order and family.

As one might expect, the rate of species discoveries has declined considerably since the 19th century. However, birds continue to be discovered at a consistent pace, and there has been a slight uptick in the last decade or two. Discoveries since 1942 tend to be in families with a lot of cryptic species (like Sylviidae, or Old World warblers) or habits that make them difficult to study (like Strigidae, or owls). Discoveries also tend to be concentrated in tropical countries or involve species with small ranges.

Nick lays out all of this and more with charts that make it easier to understand the trends. So go visit his blog to read about it.