This piece of limestone rock is full of fossils. It is about 450 million years old and is from an area in Ohio (US) that is famous for its fossils.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of Steven Holland, University of Georgia
How Many Species Have There Been on the Earth?
News story originally written on July 3, 2008
Scientists are interesting in knowing how many species can fit on the Earth.
The number of species is called diversity. If there are a lot of species, then diversity is high. If there are few species, then diversity is low. Scientists are looking at the fossil record of marine creatures – the ancestors of snails, clams, sand dollars and lobsters – to see how their diversity has changed over time.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming may cause many species to become extinct. That could cause diversity to fall quickly. Figuring out how diversity changed during past climate changes can help us predict how global warming today will affect species.
Scientists used to think that life just keeps getting more diverse, at least since 248 million years ago. Yet this new research indicates that this may not be true. The team of scientists looked at how diversity of life has changed over time. Their calculations took into account 3.5 million fossils.
The study found that diversity increased somewhat at the end of the reign of dinosaurs and then it has remained more or less the same after that. In the past 65 million years, the changes in diversity have been small. That's a long time for not much change.
Even though there has not been a lot of change, the scientists found that the numbers of species of marine creatures in the sea grew and shrunk unpredictably. This could be because of evolution, changes in geography, climate change, or sea level.
Last modified July 28, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games
section of our online store
includes a climate change card game
and the Traveling Nitrogen game
You might also be interested in:
A new report shares what we know about how people and natural ecosystems are changing because of climate change and how they will be affected by warming in the future. In earlier report, released in February,...more
Fossils are evidence of what life was like long ago. The oldest fossils are over three billion years old and the youngest fossils are about 10,000 years old. Scientists that study fossils know that creatures...more
Sea level is the height of the ocean surface. Scientists measure sea level to figure out how much sea level rise is happening now because of global warming. If you tried to draw a flat line at the top...more
Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. Adam Kent, a geologist at Oregon State University, says this...more
The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core. The mantle is made up of many different reservoirs that have different chemical compositions. Scientists...more
Some faults look strong and like they wouldn’t cause an earthquake. But it turns out that they can slip and slide like weak faults causing earthquakes. Scientists have been looking at one of these faults...more
The sun goes through cycles that last approximately 11 years. These solar cycle include phases with more magnetic activity, sunspots, and solar flares. They also include phases with less activity. The...more