Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

The Magnitude of Global Marine Species Diversity


Ward Appeltans, Flanders Marine Institute - Belgium; Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, IOC Project Office for IODE
Shane T. Ahyong, Australian Museum; University of New South Wales - Australia
Gary Anderson, University of Southern Mississippi
Martin V. Angel, National Oceanography Centre - United Kingdom
Tom Artois, Hasselt University - Belgium
Nicolas Bailly, WorldFish Center - Philippines
Roger Bamber, ARTOO Marine Biology Consultants
Anthony Barber, British Myriapod and Isopod Group
Ilse Bartsch, Research Institute and Natural History Museum - Hamburg, Germany
Annalisa Berta, San Diego State University
Magdalena Blazewicz-Paszkowycz, University of Łódź - Poland
Phil Bock, Museum Victoria - Melbourne, Australia
Geoff Boxshall, Natural History Museum - United Kingdom
Christopher B. Boyko, Dowling College
Simone Nunes Brandão, German Centre for Maine Biodiversity Research; Zoological Museum of Hamburg - Germany
Rod A. Bray, Natural History Museum - United Kingdom
Niel L. Bruce, University of Johannesburg - South Africa; Museum of Tropical Queensland - Australia
Stephen D. Cairns, Smithsonian Institution
Tin-Yam Chan, National Taiwan Ocean University
Lanna Cheng, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Allen G. Collins, National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationFollow
Thomas Cribb, University of Queensland - Australia
Marco Curini-Galletti, Università di Sassari - Italy
Farid Dahdouh-Guebas, Université Libre de Bruxelles - Belgium; Vrije Universiteit Brussel - Belgium
Peter J.F. Davie, Queensland Museum - Australia
Michael N. Dawson, University of California - Merced
Oivier De Clerck, Ghent University - Belgium
Wim Decock, Flanders Marine Institute - Belgium
Sammy De Grave, University of Oxford - United Kingdom
Nicole J. de Voogd, Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Daryl P. Domning, Howard University
Christian C. Emig, BrachNet
Christer Erséus, University of Gothenburg
William Eschmeyer, Florida Museum of Natural History; California Academy of Sciences
Kristian Fauchald, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
Daphne G. Fautin, California Academy of Sciences
Stephen W. Feist, Weymouth Laboratory
Charles H.J.M. Fransen, Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Hidetaka Furuya, Osaka University
Oscar Garcia-Alvarez, University of Santiago de Compostela
Sarah Gerken, University of Alaska Anchorage
David Gibson, Natural History Museum, London
Arjan Gittenberger, Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Serge Gofas, University of Málaga
Liza Gómez-Daglio, University of California - Merced
Dennis P. Gordon, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand
Michael D. Guiry, National University of Ireland, Galway
Francisco Hernandez, Flanders Marine Institute
Bert W. Hoeksema, Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Russell R. Hopcroft, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Damià Jaume, Universitat de Les Illes Balears
Paul Kirk, CABI Bioservices
Nico Koedam, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Stefan Koenemann, University of Siegen
Jürgen B. Kolb, Massey University
Reinhardt M. Kristensen, University of Copenhagen School of Law
Andreas Kroh, Natural History Museum, Vienna
Gretchen Lambert, University of Washington
David B. Lazarus, Museum für Naturkunde
Rafael Lemaitre, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
Matt Longshaw, Weymouth Laboratory
Jim Lowry, Australian Museum, Sydney
Enrique Macpherson, Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Blanes, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CEAB-CSIC)
Laurence P. Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Christopher Mah, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institutie
Gill Mapstone, Natural History Museum, London
Patsy A. McLaughlin, Western Washington University
Jan Mees, Ghent University; Flanders Marine Institute
Kenneth Meland, University of Bergen
Charles Messing, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic CenterFollow
Claudia E. Mills, University of Washington - Seattle Campus
Tina N. Molodtsova, Russian Academy of Sciences
Rich Mooi, California Academy of SciencesFollow
Birger Neuhaus, Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Blanes, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CEAB-CSIC)
Peter K.L. Ng, National University of Singapore
Claus Nielsen, University of Copenhagen
Jon Norenburg, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
Dennis M. Opresko, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
Masayuki Osawa, Shimane University
Gustav Paulay, University of FloridaFollow
William Perrin, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
John F. Pilger, Agnes Scott College
Gary C.B. Poore, Museum Victoria
Phil Pugh, National Oceanography Center, Southampton
Geoffrey B. Read, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand
James D. Reimer, University of the Ryukyus
Marc Rius, University of California, Davis
Rosana M. Rocha, Universidade Federal do Parana
José I. Saiz-Salinas, University of the Basque Country
Victor Scarabino, Museo Nacional de Historia Natural
Bernd Schierwater, ITZ, Ecology and Evolution
Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa, University of Hamburg
Kareen E. Schnabel, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand
Marilyn Schotte, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
Peter Schuchert, Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, Geneva
Enrico Schwabe, Bavarian State Collection of Zoology
Hendrik Segers, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
Caryn Self-Sullivan, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center; Sirenian International
Noa Shenkar, Tel Aviv University
Volker Siegel, Federal Research Centre for Fisheries
Wolfgang Sterrer, Bermuda Natural History Museum
Sabine Stöhr, Swedish Museum of Natural History
Billie Swalla, University of Washington - Seattle Campus
Mark L. Tasker, Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Erik V. Thuesen, The Evergreen State College
Tarmo Timm, Estonian University of Life Sciences
M. Antonio Todaro, Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia
Xavier Turon, Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Blanes, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CEAB-CSIC)
Seth Tyler, University of Maine
Peter Uetz, Virginia Commonwealth University
Jacob van der Land, Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Bart Vanhoorne, Flanders Marine Institute
Leen P. van Ofwegen, Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Rob W.M. van Soest, Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Jan Vanaverbeke, Ghent University
Genefor Walker-Smith, Museum Victoria
T. Chad Walter, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
Alan Warren, Natural History Museum, London
Gary C. Williams, California Academy of Sciences
Simon P. Wilson, Trinity College Dublin
Mark J. Costello, University of Auckland

Document Type


Publication Title

Current Biology



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Marine biology, Marine ecology


Background: The question of how many marine species exist is important because it provides a metric for how much we do and do not know about life in the oceans. We have compiled the first register of the marine species of the world and used this baseline to estimate how many more species, partitioned among all major eukaryotic groups, may be discovered.

Results: There are ∼226,000 eukaryotic marine species described. More species were described in the past decade (∼20,000) than in any previous one. The number of authors describing new species has been increasing at a faster rate than the number of new species described in the past six decades. We report that there are ∼170,000 synonyms, that 58,000–72,000 species are collected but not yet described, and that 482,000–741,000 more species have yet to be sampled. Molecular methods may add tens of thousands of cryptic species. Thus, there may be 0.7–1.0 million marine species. Past rates of description of new species indicate there may be 0.5 ± 0.2 million marine species. On average 37% (median 31%) of species in over 100 recent field studies around the world might be new to science.

Conclusions: Currently, between one-third and two-thirds of marine species may be undescribed, and previous estimates of there being well over one million marine species appear highly unlikely. More species than ever before are being described annually by an increasing number of authors. If the current trend continues, most species will be discovered this century.







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