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Up to 221 new species of amphibian have been discovered after a survey of Madagascan forests. Some interesting photos at that link to National Geographic.

The work suggests that tropical amphibian diversity has been underestimated at an “unprecedented level” worldwide, the study authors write in the May 4 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It is pretty clear we have no idea how many species there are. Lots more than we thought a few years ago. Somewhere between 2 million and 100 million. Maybe.

But if we have no idea how many species there are, how come scientists are falling over themselves predicting the sixth great extinction event?

They are able to point to very few species they know for certain have become extinct recently. The rates of extinction actually observed seem to be about the same as they have been for the last couple of thousand years.

But the threat of mass extinction ‘is not overestimated,’ says Bob Scholes, an ecologist at South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. ‘There is much uncertainty about how many species will be lost, and where and when, but it is clear that the world is entering a period of species loss that is dramatic and unprecedented in human history.’

OK. So we have no idea how many species there are, we have  no idea how many extinctions have actually occurred, we have no idea how many species are facing extinction or where or when.

But whatever is happening it’s bad and it’s our fault.

Ecologists say the world needs an equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change so the global scientific community can inform policymakers about the implications on biodiversity loss and actions that can be taken to limit it. They note that biodiversity loss is more complex than issues such as the ozone hole or climate change, and that existing bodies such as the CBD (the UN Convention on Biological Diversity) lack the means to mobilise scientific expertise across a broad range of disciplines.

Oh right. Well that may not save any species, but it will certainly provide some ecologists with ample job security.

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