While there’s no denying the ongoing global extinction of animals, microbes and plants, the discovery of new species provides critical information into the puzzle of earth’s biodiversity and evolutionary history. Each year, thousands of new species are identified: 18,000 in the last year alone.
Fortunately it’s easy to stay current on the latest discoveries since an international committee of taxonomists selects the Top 10 most fascinating and important additions to the world’s diversity. The most remarkable from the last year were recently announced by the State University of New York (SUNY)-ESF International Institute for Species Exploration. These are key additions to life’s variety that enrich our world.
A slice of this story on species discovery, extinction and conservation played out on PLOS ONE, as scientists recognize the journal as a home for their outstanding research. This past year four research groups with discoveries in the Top 10 list chose to publish their findings in the journal.
- A feathered dinosaur with birdlike features and a varied diet-analysis of existing specimens elucidated a new species of North American dinosaur described by the authors as “amazing in appearance even by dinosaurian standards.”
- Two forms of mushroom-shaped animals that defy classification-perhaps an entirely new phylum discovered in the waters offshore of Australia so perplexing that the authors said “we don’t even know if they’re upside down.”
- Unique reproductive practices by a frog that gives birth to live tadpoles-discovered in an area of Indonesia with a high deforestation rate prompting the author to emphasize it’s important to learn about these species “before it’s too late.”
- A wasp that uses dead ants as a nest protection strategy- possible chemical cues guard against predators attacking wasp larvae, “a stunning strategy,” write the authors.
Each article on its own merit is highly viewed, shared and covered by the global media. Collectively, the articles have more than 200,000 views and 1,000 shares since publication.
Quentin Wheeler, president of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, calls out the internal fertilization in the frog reported in PLOS ONE as the “biologically most intriguing.” In a short video, he describes the list selection process, why we should care about new species, conservation, biomimicry and more.
The International Institute for Species Exploration at SUNY, on a mission to advance discovery and taxonomy and to inspire the next generation of species explorers, released the list this year to coincide with the birthday of biologist Carolus Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy.