Scientists undercount trees by 2.6 trillion, but assure us animals going extinct


Every so often you will see articles warning that some species is going extinct. And usually it's not really a species--you never hear about "leopards" going extinct, usually it's "purple dotted left handed bisexual Nepalese leopards" or some subvariety. We are assured they are going extinct because fewer have been seen recently.

But the Earth is so big, how can we really be sure that some subspecies is going extinct just because we see fewer of them? After all, only three percent of the land mass of the Earth is urbanized. Animals could easily be hidden in the other 97%.

This fallacy becomes clear when scientists reveal that they have undercounted the number of trees on the earth--by a mere 2.6 trillion. Formerly scientists believed there were 400 million trees. Now they believe the number is slightly higher, in the range of 3 trillion trees.

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The 3 trillion figure is seven and a half times more than the previous estimate of 400 billion trees worldwide as of 2005. That estimate, which translates to about 61 trees for every person, was made by a professor of environmental studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, based on NASA satellite images.

How could they make such an enormous error? Trees can't hide. Trees can be viewed in satellite photos. Trees can't move around. And yet, they made such an enormous error.

Now, animals are much more difficult to count, because they can hide, they do move around, and they cannot be found by satellite photos. So the next time you hear that some left-handed New Guinea green spotted tree frog is on the verge of extinction, take it with a grain of salt.

Have a look at this page to find animals declared extinct, who actually appeared again some years later, such as the Coelacanth, the Giant Palouse Earthworm, Arakan Forest Turtle, and the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect.

Exit question: If the Coelacanth, the Giant Palouse Earthworm, Arakan Forest Turtle, and the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect really did go extinct, would you care? I mean, these species designation are so narrow. We lose the Lord Howe Stick Insects, but there are still many other stick insects. And would you really notice if we had one fewer kind of earthworms? Couldn't you still eat the other kinds and not notice the difference?

(Abridged version originally published in AT)



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