The description and number of undiscovered mammal species

Ecology and Evolution

Corresponding authors: John Vinson,; John Drake,

Accurate species counts, as well as estimates of the number of undescribed species for a given ecosystem, are important for implementing effective conservation strategies across the globe. Since it is impossible to get a direct, total count of all species on Earth, scientists and conservationists must rely on statistical modeling to get estimated counts. Creating and modifying these models help pinpoint areas of high biodiversity, aiding conservation efforts. In a recent study, CEID members John Vinson and John Drake, along with a team of collaborators, modify such a model to estimate the number of undescribed mammal species using description data with additional taxonomic information. They then tested their model by performing a simulation study, where they compared their novel method to a previous model under similar conditions. They found that their model more accurately estimates the total number of species, allowing them to estimate that only 5% of mammals remain undescribed. Furthermore, their model predicts that the Afrotropics and Neotropics contain both the greatest number of mammal species as well as the greatest number of undescribed species. The implications of this study are vast; compared to other taxonomic groups, mammals are relatively rare, charismatic, and endangered which makes their conservation important both ecologically and economically. As we continue to fill the knowledge gaps of other important taxonomic groups, models such as this can be more easily modified for estimating global species counts, improving biodiversity conservation efforts.

Fisher MA, Vinson JE, Gittleman JL, Drake JM. The description and number of undiscovered mammal species. Ecol Evol. 2017;00:1–8.