By Dane McDonald and Fatima Parker-Allie
The SANBI Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) has contributed nearly 100 new species to biodiversity science. Since the inception of the SANBI-FBIP in 2013, the programme has funded dozens of South African research groups to carry out surveys across the country. These researchers, together with their students, have explored uncharted territory to collect samples for morphological and molecular analysis.
Taxa include: insects, fish, crustaceans, coralline algae, frogs, plants, polychaetes, snakes, and velvet worms. For the nine-year period between 2013–2021, FBIP-funded research teams have introduced 91 species new to science – an average of 10 new species per year.
*Data from publications submitted to the FBIP by funded researchers
Insects made up an overwhelming 77% of all new species descriptions. The highest amount of species were described in 2015. Here, 31 insect species where described by Iziko Museum entomologist Dr Simon van Noort and collaborator Pascal Rousse in a paper titled ‘Revision of the Afrotropical species of Pristomerus’.
About 50 000 species remain undiscovered or undescribed
South Africa is one of the world’s ‘megadiverse countries’, which means that it is especially rich in terms of biodiversity. Here, researchers in South Africa have made considerable progress toward documenting our biodiversity, but large gaps in our knowledge still exist.
It has been estimated that more than ± 50 000 species remain undiscovered or undescribed. The discovery of new species is important as every species contributes to the overall diversity of an ecosystem. These new species might also produce compounds which can lead to the development of new medicines, may have economic benefits and play a critical role in ecosystem functioning.
Species names, and the information associated with them, are often referred to as ‘fundamental’ or ‘foundational’. It is the species names that provide or form the backbone to which information can be linked. This includes occurrence information, DNA sequences and IUCN Redlist conservation statuses, among others.
This type of foundational data forms the basis of many other aspects of biodiversity research and decision-making. Correct species names and associated data is critical for ecosystem mapping, monitoring, and ultimately for reporting on the state of biodiversity, for sustainable use of biodiversity, and understanding and mitigating the impacts of global change on biodiversity.
Thus, the discovery of new species, especially in a time of high biodiversity loss, is of critical importance.