Updated: May 11, 2021
You may have learned a few weeks ago that NASA spent several billions of dollars to send a robot seeking life on Mars. So here are good and bad news for NASA. To find new life forms, you do not need to go to Mars (that’s the good news) and, thus one does not need to spend so much money (that’s the bad news).
Indeed, on average about 18,500 new species to science are discovered by scientists every year on the planet (Earth this time). You may think that scientists may have to travel into far and remote locations (without necessarily going to Mars) to discover these biological hidden treasures… This is sometimes true, but in reality our knowledge of biodiversity is so fragmentary, that quite commonly new species may be found in your backyard or not far from your favourite jogging/walking trail.
In Hong Kong for instance, new species are discovered every year; and not just one or two per year, but more like one every month – one species every 33 days on average. Here, are included only the species that are newly described (new to Science) and not those already described from other parts of the world but not yet recorded from Hong Kong (the number would then be much higher). Indeed, since 2010, this is no less than 125 new species that have been described from Hong Kong.
This number is remarkable for various reasons. First, Hong Kong is not so big and because, unfortunately, many of the original habitats have been degraded over the centuries of human occupation; the territory still hosts numerous species unknown to scientists. Second, because taxonomic research (the field of biology that classifies and describes organisms) is not so well-developed within the academic system of Hong Kong. Fortunately, many of the recent discoveries originate from a handful of scientists and also from several passionate and talented local “amateur” naturalists who possess extensive knowledge on a particular group of organisms. Third, because Hong Kong did not have a Natural History Museum hosting collections allowing to easily compare specimens from various species and thus identify new species. But as you know now, we are working on this at the Hong Kong Biodiversity Museum in order to consolidate this knowledge and support future efforts in that direction.
Can you then guess where and in what kind of habitats these new species were discovered? And to which group of organisms they belong to? Well I let you think about it before to provide you with the answer in a future post…