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Why scientists think there may be thousands of trees not yet identified

By: April Carson

The true number of species in trees has been an enduring mystery, despite the fact that they are some of the planet's most massive and widespread creatures.

Though the world's forests may be hiding more secrets than previously thought, according to a new global estimate of tree biodiversity, there are still 9,200 undiscovered tree species. According to the study, which was published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, most of these animals are likely to be found in the tropics.

It also identified more than 1,100 new species of trees - about 17% of the total number of known tree types. The authors acknowledge that the number is only a "first pass" estimate and that there could be many more undiscovered species in need of confirmation.

However, while trees are easy to spot, determining their population is difficult. They aren't always straightforward to identify. Miles Silman, a conservation biologist at Wake Forest University who was not part of the new research, says that their crowns are hundreds of feet high; they're in between things; and they resemble similar species. “It's a one-of-a-kind breed of individual that spends months in the woods studying every single tree.”

The lack of knowledge on this subject is dangerous to conservation efforts. If ecologists want to preserve ecosystems, they must first identify the trees that make them up and keep them intact.

Hundreds of individuals from around the world have dedicated their time to the cause. These contributors have recorded trees in two enormous data sets: the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative, which keeps track of every species discovered in well-documented forest plots all over the world, and TREECHANGE, which records individual species sightings.

According to the researchers, there are roughly 64,100 known tree species on Earth—a substantial increase from previous estimates of around 60,000. The team discovered that South America has the most tree biodiversity, accounting for 43% of all species, followed by Eurasia with 22 percent, Africa with 16 percent, North America with 15 percent, and Oceania with 11%.

Because the majority of unknown trees on the planet are expected to be rare species, found in small populations in restricted areas, the scientists used this method to calculate 9,200 yet unknown trees. This approach was used because most unknown trees on Earth are expected to be uncommon species that may be found only in a few places across the world.

Scientists are certain to learn more about the preponderance of uncommon trees in locations like the Amazon—where largely untouched regions might hold pockets of unique species found nowhere else. "A somewhat conservative prediction," Liang adds, because researchers know less about the prevalence of uncommon trees in areas like the Amazon—where unknown territory may host clusters of rare species. “If we can concentrate the resources, expertise, and cash on those Amazon and Bornean rain forests, we'll be able to estimate them more confidently.”

Fewer than 2,000 of the more than 15,000 tree species in the Amazon have been identified. In a survey that is likely to be only a rough estimate, researchers have counted 720 plants containing endemic families—such as Brazil's pequi and Brazil nut trees—and about another 1,500 endemic genera among seed plants, according to a survey in the early 1990s by botanist Tony James.

The trees are not “unknown” which means that they have already been counted or identified. This is more of a theory or idea. Scientists have done research to find out that there are more than 15,000 tree species in the Amazon and they believe that only a rough estimate.

The fact that there are more than 15,000 species of trees in the Amazon means that scientists should be aware of these species before they can lead to deforestation. Furthermore, the research team believes that many tree species may exist in other biomes across the globe. "The Amazon is one of those places where we think we know a lot about vegetation and it turns out to be wrong," Dr. Ratcliffe explains. This study shows how scientists can use new technologies such as genomic sequencing to find more information on the planet's biodiversity.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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