WELLINGTON, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- A New Zealand-led international team of scientists have debunked the theory that most species of life on Earth will be extinct before they can be discovered.
Associate Professor Mark Costello, of the University of Auckland, said the probable number of species on the planet was around 5 million -- of which 1.5 million had been named -- and the number of professional and amateur researchers identifying new species was more than previously thought.
Costello was lead author -- with researchers from Australia's Griffith University and Oxford University in the United Kingdom -- of a paper in the latest issue of Science that rejected previous estimates of around 8 million species.
"Our findings are potentially good news for the conservation of global biodiversity," Costello said in a statement from the University of Auckland Friday.
"Over-estimates of the number of species on Earth are self- defeating because they can make attempts to discover and conserve biodiversity appear to be hopeless," said Costello.
"Our work suggests that this is far from the case. We believe that with just a modest increase in effort in taxonomy and conservation, most species could be discovered and protected from extinction."
The authors also concluded there had never been so many people describing new species -- about 50,000, including professionals and amateurs.
"And the community continues to grow, in large part due to the development of science in Asia and South America, regions that are rich in biodiversity and where many new species are being discovered," said the statement.
However, the authors warned that the combination of over- hunting, habitat loss and climate change, occurring on both local and global scales, meant that extinction rates could increase very rapidly.
They said that to increase the rate of species discovery, more people should be involved in the work.
They also called for more international coordination of exploration and specimen collections, the development of freely available online databases, and financial support from governments and other organizations for these efforts.