9000 tree species yet to be discovered

Researchers have found there are about 14 per cent more tree species than previously thought. Second world war codebreaking calculations used at Bletchley Park found 9,000 of those species are yet to be discovered.

Researchers working on the ground in 90 countries collected information on 38 million trees, sometimes walking for days and camping in remote places to reach them. The study found there are about 14 per cent more tree species than previously reported and a third of undiscovered tree species are rare, meaning they could be vulnerable to extinction by human-driven changes in land use and the climate crisis.

“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 among the largest and most widespread organisms, there are still thousands of trees to be discovered, with 40 per cent of unknown species believed to be in South America, according to the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Some of these undocumented species would probably have been known to indigenous communities, but some, in the most inaccessible regions, may have never been found before.

Read the entire paper at pnas.org.

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