May 19, 2022 8:48 am

More than 9,000 tree species remain to be discovered on Earth

Forests provide a large amount of Ecosystem services and support terrestrial biodiversity. However, the number of tree species worldwide is unclear due to the uneven geographical coverage of published lists, as well as financial and taxonomic problems.

An international team of researchers has compiled an extensive worldwide database of approximately 64,100 tree species. Among them, Sergio de Miguel, researcher at the Forest Science and Technology Center of Catalonia (CTFC) and professor at the University of Lleida (UdL), and Albert Morera, doctoral student at the UdL.

There are approximately 73,300 species of trees in the world, of which 9,200 are yet to be discovered.

Using advanced statistical methods, which combine the artificial intelligence and the supercomputer of the Laboratory for Advanced Computing and Artificial Intelligence at Purdue University in Indiana (USA), the authors estimated that there are approximately 73,300 species of trees worldwide, of which 9,200 are yet to be discovered.

“Counting the number of tree species around the world is like a puzzle with pieces spread across the globe. We have solved it as a team, sharing each of our pieces”, says the professor Jingjing Liang, coordinator of the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative (GFBI) and co-author of the article published in the magazine PNAS. The project lasted three years.

“Extensive knowledge of richness and diversity of trees is key to preserving the stability and functionality of ecosystems”, explains Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, lead author of this study and professor at the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Bologna (Italy).

“Until today, our data over large areas of the planet was very limited and was based on observation on the ground and on lists of species covering different areas. These limitations were detrimental to a global perspective of the issue”, he continues.

This mapping operation identified approximately 40 million trees belonging to these 64,000 species. 150 scientists from all over the world participated in it.

This mapping operation identified approximately 40 million trees belonging to these 64,000 species. They participated in it 150 scientists from around the world.

“These results highlight the vulnerability of global forest biodiversity to anthropogenic changes, in particular land use and climate, since the survival of rare taxa is disproportionately threatened by these pressures,” says the forest ecologist at the University of Michigan (USA), Peter Reich, another main author of the article.

By establishing a quantitative benchmark, this study could contribute to conservation efforts and the future discovery of new trees and associated species in certain parts of the world.

Green areas represent global tree cover. / Cazzolla Gatti et al. / PNAS

Conserve the forests of South America

In particular, South America contains approximately 43% of these species. More specifically, in the two biomes composed of “grasslands, savannahs and shrublands” and “tropical and subtropical forests” of the Amazon and the Andes. Approximately 3,000 of these species are rare, endemic to the continent and populate tropical and subtropical areas.

Likewise, almost a third of the world’s tree wealth is probably constituted by these species. scarce species, which highlights the vulnerability of forest biodiversity to anthropogenic changes.

Nearly a third of the world’s tree wealth is probably made up of these rare species, highlighting the vulnerability of forest biodiversity

The researchers used modern developments of techniques first devised by the mathematician Alan Turing during World War II to crack the Nazi code, Reich said.

“This study represents a major step forward in forest science and research by estimating global tree richness with a larger data set, and more advanced statistical methods, than all previous attempts. Estimating the number of tree species is essential for informing, optimizing, and prioritizing forest conservation efforts around the world, and more accurate estimates will be achieved as the sample of species expands, especially in those areas of the planet. less investigated”, indicates Sergio de Miguel.

Taken together, the results suggest that conservation efforts should be a priority in South America, as well as in the tropical and subtropical forests, which are also likely home to many rare species yet to be discovered, according to the scientists.

Fountain: SINC

Rights: Creative Commons.

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