Earth may be home to thousands of tree species that have yet to be discovered. At least that’s what a new international study suggests, involving the work of more than 100 scientists. They are probably rare and from small populations.
The international effort, led by Purdue University, estimated that there are 73,000 tree species on the planet — 14% more than the last estimate — and of that total, about 9,200 species still remain completely unknown.
The research combined two datasets: one from the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative and one from TreeChange. “Counting the number of species is like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered all over the world,” said forest ecologist Jingjing Liang, co-author of the study.
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The team made statistical adjustments to balance the occurrence of species in biomes in different regions of the planet, reaching an estimate of 9,200 unknown species. The researchers acknowledge the limitation of the data, but believe that the survey already provides a glimpse of the real scenario.
Global distribution of trees
According to estimates on continental scales, approximately 43% of tree species occur in South America. Then come Eurasia (22%), Africa (16%), North America (15%) and Oceania (11% ).
Of the 9,200 unknown species, the researchers believe that 40% belong to South America. In addition, the South American continent is home to the largest number of rare trees — 8,200 species — and 49% of endemic species, that is, that only exist in that region. region.
The survey shows how unknown species are especially vulnerable to human activities, such as deforestation, and increasing climate change — particularly in tropical forests, which are home to half to two-thirds of all known trees.
For the authors, knowing the wide richness and diversity of tree species is essential to preserve the stability and functioning of ecosystems based on them.
The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).