The Species We Don’t Know

On the heels of new discoveries by the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE), Sarah Soat explains why taxonomy matters:

Only about two million of the estimated 10 to 12 million living species have been identified. (We’re talking plants and animals; microbes are another 20 million-plus story.) And in an era where the rate of species extinction may exceed species discovery, [IISE founding director Quentin] Wheeler reasons that millions of species may not survive the 21st century. So it’s important—urgent, even—to establish a baseline of species to give us the necessary facts to monitor these changes as they happen. Without a major taxonomic initiative, Wheeler told me, “We are literally flying blind into a storm and hoping for a safe landing.”