30 MAY 2014 • VOL 344 ISSUE 6187 987SCIENCE sciencemag.org
BACKGROUND: A principal function of
the Intergovernmental Science-Policy
Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem
Services (IPBES) is to “perform regular
and timely assessments of knowledge on
biodiversity.” In December 2013, its second
plenary session approved a program to be-
gin a global assessment in 2015. The Con-
vention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and
five other biodiversity-related conventions
have adopted IPBES as their science-policy
interface, so these assessments will be im-
portant in evaluating progress towards the
CBD’s Aichi Targets of the Strategic Plan
for Biodiversity 2011–2020. As a contribu-
tion toward such assessment, we review
the biodiversity of eukaryote spe-
cies and their extinction rates,
distributions, and protection. We
document what we know, how
it likely differs from what we do
not, and how these differences
affect biodiversity statistics. In-
terestingly, several targets explic-
itly mention “known species”—a
strong, if implicit, statement of
incomplete knowledge. We start
by asking how many species are
known and how many remain
undescribed. We then consider by
how much human actions inflate
extinction rates. Much depends
on where species are, because
different biomes contain differ-
ent numbers of species of differ-
ent susceptibilities. Biomes also
suffer different levels of damage
and have unequal levels of pro-
tection. How extinction rates
will change depends on how and
where threats expand and whether greater
protection counters them.
ADVANCES: Recent studies have clarified
where the most vulnerable species live, where
and how humanity changes the planet, and
how this drives extinctions. These data are
increasingly accessible, bringing greater
transparency to science and governance.
Taxonomic catalogs of plants, terrestrial ver-
tebrates, freshwater fish, and some marine
taxa are sufficient to assess their status and
the limitations of our knowledge. Most spe-
cies are undescribed, however. The species
we know best have large geographical ranges
and are often common within them. Most
known species have small ranges, however,
and such species are typically newer discov-
eries. The numbers of known species with
very small ranges are increasing quickly, even
in well-known taxa. They are geographically
concentrated and are disproportionately
likely to be threatened or already extinct.
We expect unknown species to share these
characteristics. Current rates of extinction
are about 1000 times the background rate
of extinction. These are
higher than previously
estimated and likely
Future rates will de-
pend on many factors
and are poised to in-
crease. Finally, although there has been rapid
progress in developing protected areas, such
efforts are not ecologically representative,
nor do they optimally protect biodiversity.
OUTLOOK: Progress on assessing biodiver-
sity will emerge from continued expansion
of the many recently created online data-
bases, combining them with new global data
sources on changing land and ocean use and
with increasingly crowdsourced data on spe-
cies’ distributions. Examples of practical con-
servation that follow from using combined
data in Colombia and Brazil can be found at
www.savingspecies.org and www.youtube.
The biodiversity of species and their
rates of extinction, distribution,
S. L. Pimm,* C. N. Jenkins, R. Abell, T. M. Brooks, J. L. Gittleman, L. N. Joppa,
P. H. Raven, C. M. Roberts, J. O. Sexton
The list of author affiliations is available in the full
*Corresponding author. E-mail: stuartpimm@
Cite this article as S. L. Pimm et al., Science
344, 1246752 (2014). DOI: 10.1126/
Read the full article
ON OUR WEBSITE
Different visualizations of species biodiversity. (A) The distributions of 9927 bird species. (B) The
4964 species with smaller than the median geographical range size. (C) The 1308 species assessed as
threatened with a high risk of extinction by BirdLife International for the Red List of Threatened Species
of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (D) The 1080 threatened species with less than the
median range size. (D) provides a strong geographical focus on where local conservation actions can have
the greatest global impact. Additional biodiversity maps are available at www.biodiversitymapping.org.
Published by AAAS
The biodiversity of species and their
rates of extinction, distribution,
S. L. Pimm,
*C. N. Jenkins,
†T. M. Brooks,
J. L. Gittleman,
L. N. Joppa,
P. H. Raven,
C. M. Roberts,
J. O. Sexton
Recent studies clarify where the most vulnerable species live, where and how humanity
changes the planet, and how this drives extinctions. We assess key statistics about
species, their distribution, and their status. Most are undescribed. Those we know best
have large geographical ranges and are often common within them. Most known species
have small ranges. The numbers of small-ranged species are increasing quickly, even in
well-known taxa. They are geographically concentrated and are disproportionately likely
to be threatened or already extinct. Current rates of extinction are about 1000 times
the likely background rate of extinction. Future rates depend on many factors and are
poised to increase. Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected
areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect
One of the four functions of the Intergov-
ernmental Science-Policy Platform on Bio-
diversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
is to “perform regular and timely assess-
ments of knowledge on biodiversity”(1).
In December 2013, its second plenary session ap-
proved starting global and regional assessments
in 2015 (1).TheConventiononBiologicalDiversity
(CBD) and five other biodiversity-related conven-
interface, so these assessments will be important
in evaluating progress toward the CBD’sAichi
Targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–
2020 (2). They will necessarily follow the defi-
nitions of biodiversity by the CBD introduced by
Norse et al.(3) as spanning genetic, species, and
ecosystem levels of ecological organization. As a
contribution, we review the biodiversity of eu-
karyote species and their extinction rates, dis-
tributions, and protection.
Interestingly, several targets explicitly mention
“known species”—a strong, if implicit statement
of incomplete knowledge. So how many eukary-
otespeciesarethere(4)? For land plants, there
are 298,900 accepted species’names, 477,601 syn-
onyms, and 263,925 names unresolved (5). Be-
cause the accepted names among those resolved
is 38%, it seems reasonable to predict that the
same proportion of unresolved names will even-
tually be accepted. This yields another ~100,000
species for a total estimate of 400,000 species (5).
Models predict 15% more to be discovered (6), so
the total number of species of land plants should
be >450,000 species, many more than are con-
ventionally assumed to exist.
For animals, recent overviews attest to the ques-
tion’s difficulty. About 1.9 million species are de-
scribed (7); the great majority are not. Costell o et al.
(8) estimate 5 T3 million species, Mora et al.
(9)8.7T1.3 million, and Chapman (7) 11 million.
Raven and Yeates (10) estimate 5 to 6 million
species of insects alone, whereas Scheffers et al.
(11) think uncertainties in insect and fungi num-
bers make a plausible range impossible. Estimates
for marine species include 2.2 T0.18 million (9), and
Appeltans et al. estimate 0.7 to 1.0 million spe-
cies, with 226,000 described and another 70,000
in collections awaiting description (12).
Concerns about biodiversity arise because
present extinction rates are exceptionally high.
Consequently, we first compare current extinc-
tion rates to those before human actions elevated
centrated, so we next consider the biogeography
of species extinction. Given taxonomic incomplete-
ness, we consider how undescribed species differ
from described species in their geographical range
sizes, distributions, and risks of extinction. To
understand whether species extinction rates will
increase or decrease, we review how and where
threats are expanding and whether greater pro-
tection may counter them. We conclude by re-
viewing prospects for progress in understanding
the key lacunae in current knowledge.
Background Rates of Species Extinction
Given the uncertainties in species numbers and
that only a few percent of species are assessed
for their extinction risk (13), we express extinc-
over time—extinctions per million species-years
(E/MSY) (14)—rather than as absolute numbers.
For recent extinctions, we follow cohorts from
the dates of their scientific description (15). This
excludes species, such as the dodo, that went
extinct before description. For example, taxono-
mists described 1230 species of birds after 1900,
and 13 of them are now extinct or possibly ex-
tinct. This cohort accumulated 98,334 species-
years—meaning that an average species has been
known for 80 years. The extinction rate is (13/
98,334) × 10
compare such estimates to those in the absence
of human actions—i.e., the background rate of
extinction. Three lines of evidence suggest that
an earlier statement (14)ofa“benchmark”rate
of 1 (E/MSY) is too high.
First, the fossil record provides direct evidence
of background rates, but it is coarse in time, space,
and taxonomic level, dealingasitdoesmostlywith
genera (16). Many species are in monotypic genera,
whereas those in polytypic genera often share
the same vulnerabilities to extinction (17), so ex-
tinction rates of species and genera should be
broadly similar. Alroy found Cenozoic mammals
to have 0.165 extinctions of genera per million
genera-years (18). Harnik et al.(19)calculated
the fractions of species going extinct over differ-
ent intervals. Converting these to their corre-
sponding rates yields values for the past few
million years of 0.06 genera extinctions per mil-
lion genera-years for cetaceans, 0.04 for marine
carnivores, and, for a variety of marine inverte-
brates, between the values of 0.001 (brachiopods)
and 0.01 (echinoids).
Second, molecular-based phylogenies cover
many taxa and environments, providing an ap-
pealing alternative to the fossil record’sshort-
comings. A simple model of the observed increase
in the number of species S
in a phylogenetic
clade over time, t,isS
land mare the speciation and extinction rates.
In practice, land mmay vary in complex ways.
Estimating the average diversification rate, l–m,
requires only modest data. Whether one can sep-
arate extinction from speciation rates by using
species numbers over time is controversial (20,21)
and an area of active research that requires care-
fully chosen data to avoid potential biases. With
of lineages [lineages through time (LTT)] should
increase linearly over time, with slope l–m,but
with an important qualification. In the limit of
yet had time to become extinct. The LTT curve
Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Box
90328, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
Instituto de Pesquisas
Ecológicas, Rodovia Dom Pedro I, km 47, Caixa Postal 47,
Nazaré Paulista SP, 12960-000, Brazil.
Post Office Box 402
Haverford, PA 19041, USA.
International Union for
Conservation of Nature, IUCN, 28 Rue Mauverney, CH-1196
Odum School of Ecology, University of
Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.
Microsoft Research, 21
Station Road, Cambridge, CB1 2FB, UK.
Garden, Post Office Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166–0299,
Environment Department, University of York, York,
YO10 5DD, UK.
Global Land Cover Facility, Department of
Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park,
MD, 20742, USA.
*Corresponding author. E-mail: email@example.com †Authors
after the second are in alphabetical order.
SCIENCE sciencemag.org 30 MAY 2014 •VOL 344 ISSUE 6187 1246752-1
should be concave, and its slope should approach
l(20,21). This allows separate estimation of
speciation and extinction rates.
Unfortunately, in the many studies McPeek
(22) compiled, 80% of the LLT curves were con-
vex, whence m= 0. If currently recognized sub-
species were to be considered as species, then a
greater fraction of the LTT curves might be con-
cave, making m>0.Thissuggeststhattaxonomic
opinion plays a confounding role and one not
easily resolved, whatever the underlying statisti-
cal models. The critical question is how large an
extinction rate can go undetected by these meth-
ods. Generally, if it were large, then concave curves
would predominate, but that falls short of pro-
Third, data on net diversification, l–m,are
widely available. Plants (23) have median diversi-
fication rates of 0.06 new species per species per
million years, birds 0.15 (24), various chordates
0.2 (22), arthropods 0.17, (22), and mammals 0.07
(22). The rates for individual clades are only ex-
ceptionally >1. Valente et al.(25) specifically
looked for exceptionally high rates, finding them
>1 for the genus Dianthus (carnations, Caryophyl-
laceae), Andean Lupinus (lupins, Fabaceae), Zos-
terops (white-eyes, Zosteropidae), and cichlids in
East African lakes.
There is no evidence for widespread, re-
cent, but prehuman declines in diversity across
most taxa, so extinction rates must be gener-
ally less than diversification rates. This matches
the conclusion from phylogenetic studies that
do not detect high extinction rates relative to
speciation rates, and both lines of evidence are
compatible with the fossil data. This suggests
that 0.1 E/MSY is an order-of-magnitude esti-
mate of the background rate of extinction.
Current Rates of Species Extinction
The International Union for Conservation of Na-
ture (IUCN), in its Red List of Threatened Species,
assesses species’extinction risk as Least Concern,
Near-Threatened, three progressively escalating
categories of Threatened species (Vulnerable, En-
dangered, and Critically Endangered), and Ex-
tinct (13). By March 2014, IUCN had assessed
71,576 mostly terrestrial and freshwater species:
860 were extinct or extinct in the wild; 21,286
were threatened, with 4286 deemed critically
endangered (13). The percentages of threatened
terrestrial species ran from 13% (birds) to 41%
(amphibians and gymnosperms) (13). For fresh-
water taxa (26), threat levels span 23% (mam-
mals and fishes) to 39% (reptiles).
Efforts are expanding the limited data from
oceans for which only 2% of species are assessed
compared with 3.6% of all known species (27).
Peters et al.(28) assessed the snail genus Conus,
Carpenter et al.(29) corals, and Dulvy et al.(30)
1041 shark and ray species. Overall, some 6041
marine species have sufficient data to assess risk:
16% are threatened and 9% near-threatened, most
by overexploitation, habitat loss, and climate
The direct method of estimating extinction
rates tracks changing status over time. Most
changes in IUCN Red List categories result from
improved knowledge, so the calculation of the
Red List Index measures the aggregate extinc-
tion risk of all species in a given group, remov-
ing such nongenuine changes (31). Hoffmann et al.
(32) showed that, on average, 52 of 22,000 spe-
cies of mammals, birds, and amphibians moved
one Red List category closer to extinction each
year. If the probability of change between any
two adjacent Red List categories were identical,
this would yield an extinction rate of 450 E/MSY.
The probability is lower for the transition from
critically endangered to extinct (33), however, per-
haps because the former receive disproportionate
Extinction rates from cohort analyses av-
erage about 100 E/MSY (Table 1). Local rates
from regions can be much higher: 305 E/MSY
for fish in North American rivers and lakes
(34), 954 E/MSY for the region’sfreshwater
gastropods (35), and likely >1000 E/MSY for
cichlid fishes in Africa’sLakeVictoria(36)
Studies of modern extinction rates typically do
not address the rate of generic extinctions, but di-
rect comparisons to fossils are possible. For mam-
mals, the rate is ~100 extinctions of genera per
million genera years (13) and ~60 extinctions
for birds (13,37).
How does incomplete taxonomic knowledge
affect these estimates? Given that many spe-
cies are still undescribed and many species
with small ranges are recent discoveries, these
numbers are surely underestimates. Many spe-
cies will have gone or be going extinct before
description (8,15). Extinction rates of species
described after 1900 are considerably higher than
those described before, reflecting their greater
rarity (Table 1). Moreover, a greater fraction of
recently described species are critically endan-
tions of threatened species thus increase with
improved knowledge. This warns us that esti-
mates of recent extinction rates based on poorly
known taxa (such as insects) may be substantial
underestimates because many rare species are
In sum, present extinction rates of ~100 E/MSY
and the strong suspicion that these rates miss
extinctions even for well-known taxa, and cer-
tainly for poorer known ones, means present
extinction rates are likely a thousand times higher
than the background rate of 0.1 E/MSY.
The Biogeography of Global
Human actions have eliminated top predators
and other large-bodied species across most con-
tinents (38), and oceans are massively depleted
of predatory fish (39). For example, African savan-
nah ecosystems once covered ~13.5 million km
Only ~1 million km
now have lions, and much
less area has viable populations of them (40).
Recognizing the importance of such regional
extirpations, we concentrate on the irreversible
global species extinctions and now consider
where they will occur.
General patterns—“laws”(41)—describe spe-
cies’geographical distributions. First, small geo-
graphical ranges dominate. Gaston (42) suggests
a lognormal distribution, although many taxa
have more small-ranged species than even that
skewed distribution (Fig. 1). In Fig. 1, 25% of most
taxa have ranges <10
and, for amphibians,
These sizes substantially overestimate actual
ranges. Figure 1 assumes that, for plants, the
presence in one of the 369 regions of the World
Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSPF)
(43) means the species occurs throughout the en-
tire region. Similar, Fig. 1 assumes that the Conus
species occur throughout the ocean within their
geographical limits. These outer boundaries of the
estimated ranges are too large. Of course, species
are further limited to specific habitats within the
outer boundaries of their ranges (44,45).
A second law is that small-ranged species are
generally locally scarcer than widespread ones
(41). Combined, these two laws have consequences.
First, unsurprisingly, taxonomists generally de-
scribe widespread and locally abundant species
before small-ranged and locally scarce ones (46).
Even for well-known vertebrates, taxonomists de-
scribed over half the species in Brazil with ranges
after 1975 (47).
Second, since the majority of species are unde-
scribed, one expects that samples from previously
unexplored regions would contain a preponder-
ance of them. Indeed, the fraction of undescribed
species should provide estimates of how many
species there are in total (11,12). In practice, small
Table 1. Extinction rates calculated by cohort analysis and fractions of species that are critically
endangered (CR). Data from (13,37,50,51). Bird species thought to be “possibly extinct”are counted
described Species Extinctions Species-years Extinction
rate CR % CR
Before 1900 8922 89 1,812,897 49 123 1.4
1900 to present 1230 13 98,334 132 60 4.9
Before 1900 1437 14 212,348 66 37 2.6
1900 to present 4972 22 206,187 107 483 9.7
Before 1900 2983 36 500,252 72 70 2.3
1900 to present 2523 43 176,858 243 126 5.0
1246752-2 30 MAY 2014 •VOL 344 ISSUE 6187 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
samples across dispersed locations include
widespread, common species and few rare ones.
For example, in samples across ~6 million km
of Amazonian lowlands, a mere 227 species ac-
counted for half the individual trees, suggest-
ing that the Amazon might be floristically quite
homogeneous. However, the samples contained
4962 known tree species, and many that could
not be identified (48). The Amazon might con-
tain as many as 16,000 species (48). Only accu-
mulating species lists while quantifying sampling
effort can provide compelling estimates of how
diversity varies geographically and thus how
many total species there are.
Uncertainties about where species are may be
more limiting than not knowing how many spe-
cies there are. The IUCN maps 43,000 species
(13). Almost half are amphibians, birds, and mam-
mals. The most common—but least informative
map for conservation—is of species richness.
Widely distributed species dominate these maps,
whereas the majority of species with small ranges
are almost invisible (fig. S1). An essential accom-
paniment maps out small-ranged species, such
as the richness of species with less than the
median range size (49) or, for coarsely defined
regions, those endemic to each region. Figures 2
to 5 provide examples for mammals and am-
phibians (13,50,51), flowering plants (43),
freshwater fish (52), and marine snails of the
genus Conus (28). Supplementary materials
provide details (53). There are similar maps
for 845 reef-building coral species (29), coastal
fis h, various marine predators, and invertebrates
expect the most species of all range sizes—large
and small alike. Surprisingly, species with small
ranges are geographically concentrated. The high-
est numbers of bird species live in the lowland
Amazon, whereas small-ranged species concen-
trate in the Andes (fig. S1). Although mapped
at a much coarser scale, freshwater fish also
often attain their highest diversities in large
rivers flowing through forests. A striking ex-
ception is the high numbers in East African rift
lakes (Fig. 4). The Philippines have the greatest
number of Conus species; the concentrations of
small-ranged species are elsewhere (Fig. 5). Other
marine taxa are similar (55).
Many past extinctions have been on islands,
but current patterns of threat are geographically
much broader (49,56). Rare species—either
widespread but scarce (such as top predators
and other large-bodied animals) or with small
geographical ranges and so often locally scarce
(41)—dominate the lists. Species with small ranges
ened than those with larger ones (49,57). Inter-
estingly, for a given range size, a smaller fraction
of island species are threatened than for those on
continents, likely because island species are lo-
Concentrations of threatened species more
closely match concentrations of small-ranged spe-
cies than they do total species numbers and so
are more informative about where currently
threatened species live and where species may
become threatened in the future (49,50)(Fig.2
and fig. S1).
Myers et al.(58) made the vital and separate
point that habitat destruction is greatest where
the highest concentrations of small-ranged spe-
cies live. As it were, small-ranged species are born
vulnerable and then have the greater threats
thrust upon them. Myers et al.’s hotspot definition
combines a minimum number of small-ranged
plant species and sufficiently high habitat loss.
log 10 (area) km2log 10 (area) km2log 10 (area) km2
log 10 (area) km2log 10 (area) km2
Proportion of species Proportion of species Proportion of species
Log means Log means Log means
Log meansLog means
Fig. 1. The sizes of geographical ranges. (Ato E)
In red, the cumulative proportions of species against
log range size in km
for selected groups of species.
In black, the lognormal distributions with the same
corresponding log means and variances. Numbers
are the log means. See details in (53). The photo-
graphs are from S.L.P., except the plant—an unde-
scribed species of Corybas orchid (Stephanie Pimm
Lyon) and a newly discovered frog, Andinobates cas-
sidyhornae (Luiz Maziergos). All reproduced with
SCIENCE sciencemag.org 30 MAY 2014 •VOL 344 ISSUE 6187 1246752-3
Quantitative data from the WCSPF (43)have
clarified these areas (59).
Future Rates of Species Extinction
The overarching driver of species extinction is
human population growth and increasing per
capita consumption. How long these trends
continue—where and at what rate—will domi-
nate the scenarios of species extinction and chal-
Before the last decade, most applications de-
veloped extinction scenarios from simple assump-
tions of land use change as a primary driver of
biodiversity loss, employing the species-area rela-
tionship (14). For example, Pimm and Raven (60)
projected 18% extinction by 2100 due to defores-
tation to date in tropical forest hotspots and 40%
extinction if these regions retained natural habitat
only in currently protected areas.
Until recently, these scenarios were the only
empirically validated models. The validations
focused on vertebrates, globally (61) or region-
ally: eastern United States (62), South American
Atlantic Forest (63), and insular Southeast Asia
(64). There was excellent correspondence be-
tween the numbers of species predicted to go
extinct and those that did (62) or, for more
recent deforestation, with those threatened
(61,63,64). There are discussions about the un-
derlying theory of such estimates (65). Nonetheless,
when one counts all the extinctions likely to follow
deforestation (66), these estimates are conservative.
Theory predicts that many more extinctions are
possible with severe habitat fragmentation (67),
as observations confirm (68).
Pereira et al.’s review of projected future ex-
models. Strikingly, the six sets of projections pre-
dicted a hundred-fold range of extinction rates.
This emerged from the different drivers consid-
ered (land use change, climate change, or both),
model approaches, taxonomic coverage, and geo-
graphic scale. Given this range, there is an urgent
need for validation of projections against docu-
mented extinctions to date. Few studies attempt
this. Here, we consider the prospects for such
validation with newly available data that can
reduce the uncertainties.
Climate disruption will cause species extinctions,
but the range of estimates is large. Thomas et al.
(70) estimated that 15 to 37% of various taxa would
be committed to extinction by 2050 for a mid-
range warming scenario. Specific studies for
birds estimated that >400 species of land birds
out of 8750 studied (4.6%) would experience a
range reduction greater than 50% by year 2050
(71). For Western Hemisphere land birds, inter-
mediate extinction estimates based on projected
climate-induced changes in current distributions
ranged from 1.3% (1.1°C warming) to 30% (6.4°C
warming) of the 3349 species studied (72). A
global assessment of expected warming-induced
range contractions estimated that 184 to 327
montane bird species (out of 1009) would lose
>50% of their range and result in range sizes of
Cheung et al.(74) used a global climate model
to predict range shifts, extinction, and invasion
intensities based on ocean warming up to 2050
for 1066 species of exploited marine fish and
invertebrates. They predicted that poleward range
movements would lead to species’extinctions
from tropical and subpolar latitudes of 4 and
7% respectively, with mostly range readjustments
in between. They attribute the lower extinction
probabilities than on land (70) to greater free-
dom of movement in the sea. Enclosed seas, like
the Mediterranean, could trap clusters of en-
demic species against insurmountable barriers
(75). Nor did they consider any other potential
extinction drivers, such as ocean acidification
(76), overfishing (30), or the inability of sessile
species—such as brooding corals—to move.
On land, the effects of climate disruption re-
main unclear for several reasons. A key uncer-
tainty is whether climate disruption and habitat
destruction harm overlapping sets of species or
broadly different ones—and they may act syn-
ergistically. Climate disruption seems to be an
added threat (77). Some studies explicitly com-
bine species-area projections of species loss to
incorporate climate change as a driver, via mod-
els of changing global vegetation (78), and sug-
gest that 12% of species will become extinct.
Other studies estimate that 7 to 24% of plant
species (79) will become extinct. The impacts
Fig. 2. Fine-scale patterns of terrestrial vertebrate diversity. (A) The numbers of threatened mammal species and (B) those with ranges smaller than
the median range size. (C) and (D) show the corresponding maps for amphibians. See details in (53).
1246752-4 30 MAY 2014 •VOL 344 ISSUE 6187 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
of climate disruption are complex. A meta-
analysis compared 188 predicted with 130
observed climate change responses and sug-
gested that 10 to 14% of species would become
extinct (80). Moreover, the interactions of en-
vironmental drivers with intrinsic biological
traits (e.g., geographic range, body size, and
reproductive rate) indicate that species’re-
sponses to increased human population den-
sity will become increasingly uncertain (81).
Another uncertainty is that none of Pereira et al.’s
(69) models assessed population viability and
habitat suitability. Rather, they take indirect ap-
proaches, such as some fraction of their present
range, as in (70). Approaches incorporating viabil-
ity provide strong empirical foundations for esti-
mating extinction risk (82). Some regional studies
have employed them, however, including a study
of South African Proteaceae (83).
Above all, there are few empirical tests. The
above methods assume species moving pole-
ward, to higher elevations, or to deeper depths
to remain in their climate envelopes. Using for-
tuitous repeats of surveys done decades ago,
diverse studies find substantial lags in upslope
movements for plants (84), insects (85), and
birds (86). These question the fate of species now
living outside past climate envelopes. Further-
more, the few studies that consider predictions
of changing geographical ranges from the past
to the present and then calibrate them against
present ranges do not always find compelling
For freshwater species, direct and indirect
habitat modification, including pollution (88)
and the already extensive and continuing frag-
mentation and flow regulation of rivers (89), are
clearly major drivers of extinction, especially for
species with limited dispersal abilities. Existing
alterations to freshwater systems may already
have compromised species’viability to the ex-
tent that no level of future protection might
prevent extinction (90).
Introduced species, including diseases, are a
major cause of extinctions and the main cause
of recent bird extinctions (37). Some 10% of plant
species are endemic to islands small enough for
introduced herbivores to be a major threat (59).
We know of no estimates of extinction rates from
introduced species. Such extinctions can unfold
quickly and unpredictably, as the destruction
of Guam’s endemic avifauna by an introduced
snake (91) and the destruction and possible
extinction, primarily by the Nile perch, of as many
as 200 Lake Victoria haplochromine cichlids
In sum, there are few empirically tested pre-
dictions of future extinctions. Typical scenarios
consider what can be predicted—extinctions from
deforestation or climate disruption—but not po-
tentially important processes—disease, introduced
species, or hydrological changes—that one cannot
How Will Protection Slow
Among the many uncertainties in projecting
future extinction rates, a particularly important
one is the effect that conservation actions might
have in reducing them (92). For instance, the
rate at which mammals, birds, and amphibians
have slid toward extinction over the past four
decades would have been 20% higher were it
not for conservation efforts (32).
The destruction of natural habitats is the major
threat to species (13). Thus, protected areas, while
diverse and differing substantially in their pur-
poses and levels of protection (93), are essential
to reducing extinctions. Aichi Target 11 seeks
the protection of >17% “ecologically representa-
tive”terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and
>10% of coastal and marine ecosystems (2),
whereas CBD’s Global Strategy for Plant Con-
servation (GSPC) Target 4 seeks >15% of “each
ecological region or vegetation type”(94).
In 2009, 12.9% of the total land area was un-
der some legal protection, up from <4% in 1985
where there is little human pressure (96). Cover-
age varies between 4% and 25% protection of
14 major terrestrial biomes (96). Of the world’s
821 terrestrial ecoregions, half had <10% of
their area protected (96).
How well these areas capture species within
their boundaries now and in the future is an
essential input to predict future extinction rates
(50,60). Rodrigues et al.(97)analyzedthreat-
ened mammal, bird, amphibian, and turtle
ranges combined with the World Database on
Protected Areas (93). Overall, 27% of threat-
ened amphibians, 20% of threatened birds, 14%
of threatened mammals, and 10% of threatened
turtles live outside protected areas. Subsequent
analyses have set targets for representation scaled
in inverse proportion to range size (98)—for ex-
ample, 100% representation for species with
ranges <1000 km
, 10% representation for ranges
, and a linear interpolation for
species in between. Only ~46% of birds, ~39% of
mammals, and ~19% of amphibians reach or
exceed their targets (98).
These global gap analyses are vulnerable to
commission errors—species appearing to occur
when they do not—resulting from the overlay of
the coarse-resolution species maps with the
high-resolution protected area boundaries (99).
These can generate a false sense of security:
Fig. 3. Relative numbers of flowering plant species in the different regions used by the World Check-
list of Selected Plant Families (43). (A) All species and (B) endemic species. See details in (53).
SCIENCE sciencemag.org 30 MAY 2014 •VOL 344 ISSUE 6187 1246752-5
Species thought safely represented may be going
extinct. Alternative approaches that accept
higher omission errors, although less efficient,
are less problematic. Thus, for birds, protected
areas cover only 49% of sites documented to
threatened species (56)andonly51%ofglobally
important sites for birds (100).
Do protected areas work? Certainly, some fail
completely: Even large national parks in West
Africa have lost lions and many of their prey
(40). For freshwater species populations, occur-
rence within reserves is no guarantee of protec-
tion, given external threats like flow modification
and lack of explicit reserve management to
meet freshwater objectives (101). Protected for-
ests generally retain their forest cover (102),
have far fewer anthropogenic fires than unpro-
tected areas (103), and do not attract higher
than expected human population growth to their
perimeters (104). Most studies do not assess
plant and animal populations directly, and re-
maining habitats are often too small, or too
heavily exploited, to retain all of their species
(105). Those that do track species reveal that
protected areas deliver substantial outcomes
for preventing extinctions. Globally, species with
>50% of the sites of particular importance for
them protected are sliding toward extinction only
half as rapidly as those with <50% of their im-
portant sites protected (100).
2013 assessment (106)reported~10,000marine
oceans. Aichi Target 11 admits “other effective
area-based conservation measures,”so this as-
sessment included large fishery management
zones closed to certain fishing gears, including
some in New England, Florida, and New Zealand.
These were not established for biodiversity con-
servation and, in the New Zealand case, were
proposed by the deep-sea fishing industry, avoid-
ing places important for fishing (106). A more
conservative assessment (107)estimates1.8%
As on land, marine protected area coverage is
uneven. Reserves are often absent where threats
to biodiversity are highest, such as fishing grounds
and oil and gas leases. Beyond the 200 nautical
mile limits of national jurisdiction, 0.17% of open
waters are protected, compared with 8% of con-
tinental shelves (106). Coastal coral reefs are the
best protected, with 18.7% within protected areas
by 2006 (108). Only 2% were in MPAs considered
to be of adequate size, management, level of
protection, and connectivity, however. Moves to
establish large and remote sites as MPAs, such as
the U.K.’s British Indian Ocean Territory, have
contributed strongly to recent growth in protec-
tion, suggesting that the Aichi target of 10% cov-
erage may be attainable (109). Marine protected
areas that are no-take, well-enforced, old, large,
proportionately successful in retaining their spe-
Aichi Target 11 seeks protection of 17% of
terrestrial lands (2), whereas the GSPC seeks
to protect 60% of plant species (94). Are both
targets possible simultaneously? The concen-
tration of small-ranged species is such that
were land protected efficiently to capture bio-
diversity, the 17% so selected would encom-
pass part of the ranges of 81% of plant species
and all the ranges of 67% (59). How might the
prediction that 15% more plant species are
currently undescribed change these selections?
Joppa et al.(111) used rates of species’descrip-
tion corrected for taxonomic effort and pre-
dicted that undescribed species will be in the
known concentrations of species with small
ranges, leaving current priorities unchanged.
These plant priorities match those for terres-
trial vertebrates. Some 89% of bird species, 80%
of amphibians, and 74% of mammals live within
these plant priority areas (59). Percentages for
88%, 82%, and 73%, respectively (59). With up-
dated data, these results capture Myers et al.’s
(58) observation that conserving a large fraction
of species is possible in limited areas if author-
ities choose protected areas cognizant of what
species they contain (112). Areas of high fresh-
water fish diversity match some areas of high
terrestrial diversity, but such congruence cannot
be assumed: Exceptions include the high-diversity
freshwater systems of the Ganges and Mekong
deltas (113) (Fig. 4.) Moreover, protecting fresh-
water species will require managing landscapes
and water use beyond reserves’fence lines and
well into larger catchments (101).
What We Know, What We Do Not,
and How to Fix the Gaps
We know enough to see that our ignorance about
species’numbers, distributions, and status strong-
ly affects key biodiversity statistics. Two examples
illustrate the consequences. First, ~20% of known
plants are thought threatened (114). Adding the
predicted 15% of undescribed species—almost all
will be rare and in places with extensive habitat
threatened (6). Climate disruption threatens ad-
Second, only 6.5% of the 632 Conus species are
threatened. Another 14% are “Data Deficient”—
there is insufficient information to assess their
status, typically because they are rare and have
small geographical ranges (28). Were better
of where threatened species occur would change
substantially (Fig. 5). Investment in extending
Fig. 4. Relative numbers of freshwater fish species in the different freshwater ecoregions (52).
(A) All species and (B) endemic species. See details in (53).
1246752-6 30 MAY 2014 •VOL 344 ISSUE 6187 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
the coverage of the IUCN Red List to its target of
160,000 species assessments is a priority (115).
What is the progress toward getting better
knowledge, and what are the prospects for con-
tinued improvements? Aichi Target 19 calls for
data to be “widely shared.”Recent online efforts
toward this goal include the Global Biodiversity
Information Facility (GBIF) (116), with 420 mil-
lion records and 1.45 million species’and sub-
species’names, and the Ocean Biogeographic
Information System (117), with 38 million records
of 115,000 species. Species 2000 seeks to create
a validated checklist of all species, and the Tree
of Life (118) and TimeTree (119) provide phylo-
Communities of taxonomists now address the
tedious but vital issue of synonymy and placing
their lists and taxonomic decisions into the public
domain. Large databases include the World Re-
gister of Marine Species (120), which has checked
95% of 221,000 marine species, and FishBase,
with 32,700 species of fish (121). WCSPF (43)has
currently assessed ~110,000 plant species (5).
New technologies help. Genetic barcoding
(122) offers the potential to identify animal spe-
but unique, DNA sequence. Barcoding for plants
is slightly more difficult. For the great majority
of unknown species in animal taxa with few
taxonomic specialists, this will surely become
the predominant method of discovering new
species. It raises the controversial idea that many
species may become known by a number derived
from barcoding and not—or not only—from con-
ventional descriptions (123). The potential to
find new species and untangle clusters of cryp-
tic species (124) is also being realized. Less ap-
preciated is that cost-effective barcoding by
batches of species is now possible. Powerful new
statistical methods (125)estimatehowmanyspe-
cies may be present in an area and how these
overlap with other samples from increasing
sampling efforts. Combined with batch barcod-
what fractions of undescribed species are present
in poorly sampled areas—themostdirectwayof
estimating how many species there are.
Even for species that are mapped, substan-
tial uncertainties remain. The highest apparent
numbers of vertebrate species in South America
(fig. S1) are close to research centers, as are many
GBIF records. The most important consequence
of having a public species’range map is that it
challenges observers to confirm or amend it.
Although GBIF (116)istherepositoryfor
information into which other sources feed, the
diversity of those sources merits comment.
They include professional organizations, such
as Tropicos (126), with 4.2 million specimens.
The fastest growth in understanding species’
distributions comes from large numbers of ama-
teurs. Birdwatchers are most numerous: eBird
(127) became an international depository in 2010
and already has >100,000 observers and >100 mil-
lion observations. It permits fine-scale mapping
and month-by-month changes in distribution.
Such wealth of data skews broad biodiversity as-
sessments (128), motivating efforts for less pop-
To be useful, observations require identifica-
tions, and identifying organisms requires train-
ing and skill. Recent advances in photo-sharing
technology and social networking provide new
opportunities. Apps like iNaturalist (129)allow
division of labor between amateur observers up-
loading mystery field observations from smart-
phones and skilled identifiers who later catalog
these observations from the photos provided.
Cooperation between amateurs and experts
now produces high volumes of quality data for
diverse taxa. iNaturalist has already logged over
half a million records and become the pre-
ferred app for incorporating crowd-sourced
data into national biodiversity surveys in
Me xi co and els ewhere. The Reef Life Survey is
generating similar advances for marine bio-
Crowd-sourced data, especially when including
data on sampling effort, provide substantial
opportunities to monitor a broad range of species
over time and across broad geographical ar ea s—
exactly the requirements needed to assess the
various scenarios for future extinction.
Fig. 5. The distribution of species in the marine snai l genus Conus.(A) The numbers of all species; (B) those with ranges smaller than the median
range size; (C) those threatened; and (D) data-deficient species for which there is insufficient data to assess their status. Figure S2 provides a detail of
the Cape Verde islands, where a large number of small-ranged species live. The terrestrial background is shown in approximately true color to show the
distribution of forests (dark green) and drylands (buff) and oceanic bathymetry (darker colors mean deeper water). See details in (53).
SCIENCE sciencemag.org 30 MAY 2014 •VOL 344 ISSUE 6187 1246752-7
The numbers and kinds of online databases
have increased dramatically in recent years and
will continue to do so. Global estimates of land
cover from remote sensing [e.g., (131)] diver-
sified with the 2009 opening of the U.S. Geol-
ogical Survey Landsat archive and subsequent
efforts to collect and calibrate global reposito-
ries of Landsat images going back to the early
Even more promising is combining data source s.
Studies now permit detailed assessments of the
current status of species by trimming available
range maps using remotely sensed estimates of
elevation and remaining habitats (134) and con-
necting directly to metapopulation models of frag-
mented ranges (45). Figure 6 provides an example
of the extent to which species’ranges have been
lost and fragmented by deforestation—and
when this happened. It also shows where forest
remains outside of protected areas, how it has
been lost from within them, and the potential
of crowd-sourced data to monitor species’
Combining such sources anticipates an ability
to assess biodiversity continuously and pro-
vide a template onto which crowd-sourced data
could validate predictions of changing species’
distributions. Global biodiversity monitoring
can now move to combining databases of in-
creasing scope and certainty at regular intervals.
These coming advances will increasingly enable
scientists and policy-makers to understand the
status, trends, and threats to Earth’s
biodiversity and to act accordingly
to protect it.
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ACKNO WLED GMEN TS
We thank A. Ariño, J. A. Drake, M. A. Fisher, S. Loarie, E. Norse, and
P. R. Stephens for comments. The original data for this paper
are in public archives from BirdLife International (37), IUCN (13),
WCSPF (43), and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (94).
We thank those responsible for access to them and especially
the many professionals and amateurs who collected them.
NASA’s Making Earth System Data Records for Use in Research
Environments (MEaSUREs) (NNH06ZDA001N) and Land Cover and
Land Use Change (NNH07ZDA001N-LCLUC) programs provided
forest cover data. We thank the World Checklist of Selected
Plant Families. The Brazilian agency CAPES, through the Ciência
Sem Fronteiras program, supports C.N.J. M. Thieme, P. Petry,
and C. Revenga co-led the synthesis of the freshwater fish data.
Additional biodiversity maps are at www.biodiversitymapping.org.
Materials and Methods
Figs. S1 and S2
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