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Our Planet Has Way More Kinds of Trees Than Scientists Realized – Mother Jones

Our Planet Has Way More Kinds of Trees Than Scientists Realized – Mother Jones

Our Planet Has Way More Kinds of Trees Than Scientists Realized – Mother Jones

Rainforest in Brazil.DDurrich/Getty images

This story was first published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

There are several According to an estimated 73.300 species of tree on Earth, 9,000 have yet been discovered. This was according to a global tree species count by thousands who used Bletchley park’s second world War codebreaking techniques to assess the number.

Researchers in 90 countries collected data on 38 million trees. They sometimes walked for days, and even camped in remote areas to get there. The study found that there are 14 percent more tree varieties than previously reported. Additionally, a third of undiscovered species are rare and could be at risk from extinction due to human-driven changes in land usage and climate.

“It is a massive effort for the whole world to document our forests,” said Jingjing Liang, a lead author of the paper and professor of quantitative forest ecology at Purdue University in Indiana, US. “Counting the number of tree species worldwide is like a puzzle with pieces spreading all over the world. We solved it together as a team, each sharing our own piece.”

Despite being the largest and most widely distributed organisms, there are still thousands upon thousands of trees to discover. Around 40% of these species are thought to be in South America. According to the paperPublished in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. Some of these species may not have been documented by Indigenous communities, but others, located in remote regions, may not have been discovered before.

The Amazon basin seems to have the highest biodiversity of tree species at the local level, with 200 species per hectare. Researchers believe this is due to the warm and humid environment that supports a wider range species.

Scientists used the Estimation of the frequency of Good-TuringThe creator of the, was the codebreaker Alan Turing and his assistant Irving Good when trying to crack German codes for the Enigma machine during the second world war.

The theory, which was Anne Chao, a Taiwanese statistician. to be applied to the study of undetected species, helped researchers work out the occurrence of rare events—in this case unknown species of trees—using data on observed rare species. The code uses data on species that are only found once or twice to estimate the number unknown species.

The idea to do an inventory of the planet’s trees came 10 years ago when Liang found data on Alaska’s trees sitting in a drawer. He was impressed with the results and decided to make it his personal mission get the data online. He then wrote a proposal for an inventory of the entire world. “People initially laughed at me,” he said.

Although there is not much data available on the evolution of tree species over time, many species are at risk of extinction due to climate change and deforestation. Scientists fear that many will disappear before they are properly documented.

Liang said: “We hope this paper will provide us with benchmark data so that we can know if the total number of tree species in the world has been declining, especially during our mass extinction event.

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“We need to look at the forest as not just a carbon reservoir, or a resource for extraction; we should look at our forests as a habitat that contains tens of thousands of species of trees, and even a much higher number of flora and fauna—we need to pay attention to this biodiversity.”

Dr Ruth Mitchell, a plant-soil ecologist at the James Hutton Institute, Scotland, was not involved in the research. She said that it showed that even large organisms like trees are still being discovered new species.

“It is very exciting, yet at the same time concerning that we are losing so much biodiversity so rapidly that we don’t even know about,” she said. “This study highlights the incredible diversity within our forests, much of which is still out there waiting for us to discover.”

Martin Lukac, professor of ecosystem science at Reading University, who was also not involved in the paper, said: “The paper shows that almost half of the world’s tree species are in South America—this is a diamond-hard proof that we must not destroy the tropical forests there.

“The tree-species diversity took billions of years to accumulate in the Amazon,” he said. “It would be beyond reckless to destroy it inside a century.”

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