That is the argument behind a taxonomy analysis by a trio of scientists in Science, published on January 25. They argue just $500 million to $1 billion a year could ensure that all species were described and catalogued within 50 years. New tools will help too: the genetic “barcode of life” ensures that a species description is appropriate while expert-driven Catalogue of Life and an ambitious effort to inventory more than 200,000 marine species are succeeding. The Internet and smartphones are also aiding the cause.
Since the turn of the century, 17,500 species have been officially described per year—and the rate is increasing (largely because more people are looking from different parts of the world than previously).
There’s a lot of duplication, however. By the researchers own count, at least 20 percent of the 1.9 million species known to science are in fact not species at all, but “synonyms”—in other words, some species are named more than once. That brings the number down to 1.5 million identified species.