The unique conditions on earth have produced an unmatched variety of life that makes our blue planet a jewel among the stars. No other planet that we know of supports such a dazzling array of life forms. Consider the groundbreaking 2011 study that estimated there to be almost 9 million species on earth—nearly three times the previously calculated amount. Of that 9 million, we’ve only identified about 1.6 million. Understanding the variety of life is crucial to our survival because it underpins what’s essential to our livelihood. Plants, for instance, purify the air we breathe and are our best-known carbon sinks. Healthy soils, nurtured by insects, help clean the water we drink. Animals fertilize, pollinate, and distribute the crops that we depend on for food. And, many of our medications are found in the unfathomable assemblage of plants and fungi that cover the earth. Despite having explored nearly the entire planet, we still have much to discover. “As we speak, in museums, universities, and in labs, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of species waiting to be named,” says Dr. Camilo Mora, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii, who co-authored the 2011 study. 2021, too, is shaping […]

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