Scientists often ask the question "How many species are there currently living on Earth?" How many do you think there are? 50, ooo? 100,000? 1 million? Estimates vary from study to study, but conservative estimates point to 7-10 million species, and other studies claim up to 100 million species. That's a lot!
Certainly, the ability to understand just how many species are currently on our planet is crucial to understanding what changes affect living things. Without baseline information, detecting trends is near-to if not impossible. (For related topics, see my posts on biodiversity here and here).
Although the estimates of the number of species varies so widely (93 million is a huge number, last time I checked), there seems to be a consensus that large and charismatic species are described more completely than, say bacteria or lichens. That is why you may find it surprising to hear that scientists find new vertebrate species all the time. Yep. A recent news article (with beautiful photos) describes species of frogs, geckos, snakes, birds, and even a flowering plant that are all new to science. If that piques your interest, here's another article (again, with great photography)
I have previously commented that taxonomy (the science of naming species) is a dying science and art. This is especially unfortunate in an era when our estimates of the number of undiscovered species on our planet are so massive! In my naive mind, a solution to this problem would be a grassroots effort in the sciences to support taxonomists and the work they do. Fellowships, labs, and doctoral positions should be competitively awarded to taxonomists in academic institutions, not just at Harvard or Oxford, but around the world. This network, coupled with online diversity indices (such as Encyclopedia of Life and GeckoWeb), will aid in conservation and education efforts destined for governmental policy. I feel declines in worldwide biological diversity are worse than eminent global warming (regardless of cause) and the only way to effectively combat those declines is via workable, worldwide diversity indices.
If you're interested in following new species discoveries, try ScienceDaily's New Species News.
Now for some animal photos. We all like those: