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How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?

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Assessment of factors affecting the higher taxon approach.

(A–E) To test the effects of changes in higher taxonomy, we performed a sensitivity analysis in which the number of species was calculated after altering the number of higher taxa. We used Animalia as a test case. For each taxonomic level, we added or removed a random proportion of taxa from 10% to 100% of the current number of taxa and recalculated the number of species using our method. The test was repeated 1,000 times and the average and 95% confidence limits of the simulations are shown as points and dark areas, respectively. Light gray lines and boxes indicate the currently estimated number of species and its 95% prediction interval, respectively. Our current estimation of the number of species appear robust to changes in higher taxonomy as in most cases changes in higher taxonomy led to estimations that remained within the current estimated number of species. The results for changes in all possible combinations of taxonomic levels are shown in Figure S2. (F–J) The yearly ratio of new higher taxa in Animalia (black points and red line) and the yearly number of new species (grey line); this reflects the fraction of newly described species that also represent new higher taxa. The contrasting patterns in the description of new species and new higher taxa suggest that taxonomic effort is probably not driving observed flattening of accumulation curves in higher taxonomic levels as there is at least sufficient effort to maintain a constant description of new species. (K–O) Sensitivity analysis on the completeness of taxonomic inventories. To assess the extent to which incomplete inventories affect the predicted consensus asymptotic values obtained from the temporal accumulation of taxa, we performed a sensitivity analysis in which the consensus asymptotic number of taxa was calculated from curves at different levels of completeness. We used the accumulation curves at the genus level for major groups of vertebrates, given the relative completeness of these data (i.e., reaching an asymptote). Vertical lines indicate the consensus standard error. (P–T) Frequency distribution of the number of subordinate taxa at different taxonomic levels. For display purposes we present only the data for Animalia; lines and test statistics are from a regression model fitted with a power function.

Figure 3