Monday, March 25, 2013

Do Invertebrates Really Make Up 80% of All Species on Earth?

bug_girl has a new post called Planet of the Arthropods. She asks why we should care about invertebrates, "Why should we care about a bunch of squishy boneless animals? Because invertebrates make up EIGHTY PERCENT OF ALL THE SPECIES ON EARTH. They truly are the 'little things that run the world.'"

She links to this image ...


Isn't that amazing! Single-celled eukaryotes, fungi, and bacteria make up such a small percentage of total species (<1%) that they don't even register on this summary!

Here's a phylogeny of eukaryotes (no bacteria) from Keeling et al. (2005). If you look closely, you can find "animals" down in the lower right-hand corner. Isn't it amazing that one little insignificant branch represents 83% of all species on the planet? Seriously, something is wrong with taxonomy if this is even close to being true.


Estimates of the total number of bacterial species range from about one million to about one billion [Jonathan Eisen]. Read Carl Zimmer's New York Times article: How Many Species? A Study Says 8.7 Million, but It’s Tricky for an interesting perspective.

The general public has a very poor understanding of our relationship to all other species on this planet. We should be working hard to dispel the major misconceptions about biology and evolution.


Keeling, P.J., Burger, G., Durnford, D.G., Lang, B.F., Lee, R.W., Pearlman, R.E., Roger, A.J., Gray, M.W. (2005) The tree of eukaryotes. Trends Ecol. Evol. 20:670-676. [doi:10.1016/j.tree.2005.09.005]

60 comments:

  1. Too many years ago to mention, I hear Dr. S.J. Gould on a PBS science program say something like this: "It is not the Age of Mammals; it is and always has been the Age of Bacteria. They out-mass all other species on Earth by a factor of 10."

    Based on that, and the fact that bacteria don't have vertebrae, I would have estimated that invertebrates comprise at least 98% of the mass of all living Earth creatures. (That seems a better measure to me than species count.)

    However, I still tend to prefer the vertebrates, myself.

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    1. Wait a minute! Aren't plants invertebrates? :-)

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    2. However, I still tend to prefer the vertebrates, myself

      Except for birds. Nobody likes birds.

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    3. Bloody birds are one more reason why it is not the Age of Mammals even if you ignore all things, both great and small, that lack a backbone. There are less that 6,000 species of mammals and about 10,000 species of birds, so we land vertebrates are still, technically, in the Age of Dinosaurs.

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    4. "Except for birds. Nobody likes birds."

      No wonder everyone seems to like cats.

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    5. Except for birds. Nobody likes birds.

      Was that intended specifically to provoke me?

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    6. best five minutes of biology, ever
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTR21os8gTA

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    7. While generally ornery, I have never met a bird I didn't like. Can't say the same for people.

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    8. @Andy

      yeah flipping amazing birds. wow.

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    9. Andy: everybody likes birds

      Of course. We are just teasing them affectionately. They are intelligent enough to understand.

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    10. Piotr, I teased a pelican once. Won't repeat that mistake.

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    11. Watch out for those peacocks. They've got eyes way in back of their head. I've always wondered how they got THERE.

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    12. John Harshman asks,

      Was that intended specifically to provoke me?

      Yes. Did it work? :-)

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    13. It did indeed. I will however restrain myself and merely point out that more people like birds than biochemists.

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  2. "I hear" should have been "I heard", sorry.

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    1. Maybe he's hearing about it repeatedly.

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  3. Come on, Larry. Play nice. Bug girls was just trying to correct our vertebrate chauvinism. No need to fault her for metazoan chauvinism when she does it. We opisthokonts should stick together, or we'll never beat those damned dirty stramenopiles.

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    1. Of course we'll beat them 'cause we make the rules! If the stramenopiles get too upetty we'll just create more insect species. Down with lumpers!

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    2. We opisthokonts should stick together, or we'll never beat those damned dirty stramenopiles.

      Such bigotry is offensive. Some of my best friends are eustigmatophytes. Smash stramenopilophobia!

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  4. Stramenophiles? Pffft. It's all about viruses.

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    1. Rulemakers say only living things count. Next someone will want to throw minerals on the playing field.

      Hydrogen atoms!

      I win!

      :)

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    2. Nope, I did not win, someone who knows about subatomic particles will beat me.

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    3. The viruses better not try to go it alone ...

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    4. I heard that there's one particular higgs boson group that's out to subset the whole natural order with their hidden agenda.

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    5. Let's go sillier: Calibi Yau manifolds. Sort of an infinite smear of those, easily one or more at the location of any particle.

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  5. It appears quite reasonable to assume that there are more of the smaller things, and even more of the smallest. The problem with bacteria is only that it might be quite hard to apply the concept of species to them in the first place, and thus it is difficult to say whether 1000 "species" of bacteria are comparable to 1000 species of beetles. And as for viruses, I would not even count them as life-forms; they are just parasitic pieces of DNA.

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    1. -I would not even count them as life-forms; they are just parasitic pieces of DNA.

      -With an attitude problem.

      ...and a protein capsid and often a (stolen) membrane.

      I dont know about everyone else, but the distinction that viruses are not living used to seem important to me, having received my first training in a Department of Microbiology.

      In later years, the demarcation between non-living and living has, for all intents and purposes, become less important to me. Rather like a continuum of complexity than a real distinction. We could further muddy the water with talk about mitochondria and other obligate endosymbionts as well!

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    2. Talking about viruses, as most of you probably know, Carl Zimmer is one of the most knowledgeable scholars writing about viruses. If you haven’t, you should read his fascinating and informative book “A Planet of Viruses.”

      A few weeks ago, I left a comment on his blog (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/02/20/an-infinity-of-viruses), with the question What is a virus Carl?, which might be relevant to some of the comments here about the nature of viruses.

      What is a virus Carl?

      With the recent realization that viruses are the most abundant organisms on Earth and that the repertoire of viral genes exceeds that of cellular species, not to mention the significant role played by viruses in the evolution of their hosts (e.g. more than half of the human genome is composed of endogenous viruses and transposable elements), we can confidently say that Earth is “A Planet of Viruses”. Carl Zimmer, our host, has even written a book about this.

      When it comes to planet Earth, the realization that it is ‘round’, not ‘flat’, has been one of the major breakthroughs in human knowledge. Although for most people, even for scientists studying various aspect of our planet, this knowledge is not essential, nevertheless, they recognize and appreciate this knowledge as highly significant.

      When it comes to viruses, I would think is it important to know what a virus is. Several months ago, I asked virologist Dr. Robin Weiss the question: “What is a virus Dr. Weiss?” The question was in the context of a comment I posted to Weiss’ review of Carl’s book “A Planet of Viruses” (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v474/n7351/full/474279a.html#comment-24322).

      For whatever reason, but not unexpectedly, Dr. Weiss did not answer the question. However, I expected that Carl, who is a scholar and a science writer about viruses, would be curious about this question. Probably, Carl did not read my comment and previous papers on the subject (1, 2), or maybe he did not agree with my thesis and that of other virologists (e.g. 3, 4) that the nature of viruses has been misinterpreted ever since they were discovered more than a century ago (metaphorically, that’s more than a hundred years of ‘flat-earth’).

      In a recent post, Carl wrote: “Viruses…they’re just protein shells that package a few genes, which they insert into a host cell”. I’m sure Carl knows that many viruses have more than “a few genes”; he knows that some viruses have more than a thousand genes, which is many times more than some cellular species. But, I don’t think Carl knows what a virus is.

      References

      1 Bandea CI. A new theory on the origin and the nature of viruses. J Theor Biol.; 105:591-602, 1983. ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6672474)
      2 Bandea CI. The origin and evolution of viruses as molecular organisms. Nature Precedings. 2009. (http://hdl.handle.net/10101/npre.2009.3886.1)
      3 Claverie JM. Viruses take center stage in cellular evolution. Genome Biol. 2006; 7:110.( ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16787527)
      4 Forterre P. Giant viruses: conflicts in revisiting the virus concept. Intervirology. 53:362-78, 2010. ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20551688)"

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    3. When it comes to planet Earth, the realization that it is ‘round’, not ‘flat’, has been one of the major breakthroughs in human knowledge.

      The problem with being rude and pedantic is that someone can always apply the same microscope to your own writings. 'Round' is indistinguishable from 'flat' (i.e. 2 dimensional). You must have meant some version of 'sphere' or another 3 dimensional body.

      As to the what is a virus question, we are operating well with a fuzzy definition of a 'gene' or of 'species'. Nature is messy, and our brain's tendency for binary classification sometimes fails. Look at all of the fun with 'planet'. The controversial Hayden Planetarium exhibit that helped in the demotion of Pluto showed that there are 4 classes of bodies in our solar system that split the then-nine-planets into 3 different classes, which were more meaningful than "planet". Are astronomers fools for their studies on Exoplanets, because their is not tight definition of a planet?

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    4. @TheOtherJim

      Well, there was a reason that I used apostrophes for ‘flat’ and ‘round’, but thanks for the correction: planet Earth is ‘sphere’, so the people who thought that it was ‘round’ missed the whole point!

      Regarding your reference to ‘viruses’, ‘planets,’ ‘stars’ and ‘fools’, this is how Michael Claverie, who leads one of the top laboratories in the world studying large viruses, described the problem with the current dogma of viruses as virus particles (the view about viruses used by Carl):
      “when the finger points to the stars, the fool looks at the finger” (see Ref. 3 in my previous comment)

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    5. Not a sphere at all. It's a good deal wider at the equator, and due to the disproportion of ocean to continent the southern hemisphere is a bit wider than the northern counterpart.

      These details are indistinguishable, from our typical human scale (they all look much the same as "flat" unless you're watching a boat row out to the horizon,) but we care about these big picture descriptions as far as they do something useful for us but as we grow used to them the old perspective is lost, except when we want to dig up its grave to poke fun at it.

      Spreading the pedantry around evenly this other 'Jim' has made a mistake in complaining about the number of dimensions. A two dimensional plane is indistinguishable from a three dimensional plane that has so little curvature as our Earth, but I suspect he stepped even further out of context as he then references geometric shapes like one would draw on a sheet of paper. Round is a word that most certainly applies to spheres so I suggest that in the future he should take a little more care in preparing his pedantic tangents.

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    6. Yes, mimivirus and the giant viruses are interesting exceptions in the viral world. It would be interesting if more such specimens were found, but at the moment, they remain outliers.

      In contrast, I was very excited to read about the Oxytricha genome. Or about proteins that arise from trans-spliced RNAs, with parts encoded on both the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes. But I don't run about harassing science writers who fail to discuss the complexities of macronucleus/ micronucleus cycles, or the possibility that single peptides can come from products spliced between two separate genomes when they write to a general audience.

      And re: you comments below. You are correct that I did not read your citations. This is partially due to my distaste for self-citation, and due to your post seeming like little more than some creepy stalker, harassing a well-know science writer. You discredit yourself behaving like this. Note the difference in tone between Larry's post, and your comment. Only one of them seems to be generating a useful discussion.

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    7. Well, whether my comment generated useful discussion, or not, is secondary. What’s more important is that Carl will no longer mislead his readers in the future by saying that: “Viruses…they’re just protein shells that package a few genes, which they insert into a host cell” . That might not be important for you, but significant for many other readers.

      And, when it comes about citations, in discussing an issue on which you have something important to say, self-citations are is inevitable; of course, if you have something to cite on the issue! The alternative would be not to bring your own ideas for discussion in an open forum, which I recognize is not very 'smart.' Have you noticed how many scientists participate in discussion about their published ideas here or on other blogs? Not many and that might be for a good reason!

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    8. ...so you are confirming that this is a opedentic ne-upmanship crusade against Carl?

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    9. I surely have some problems communicating in English, but I’m sorry to say that you seem to have problems with thoroughly reading and understanding comments.

      Here is how I refer to Carl and his work:

      …as most of you probably know, Carl Zimmer is one of the most knowledgeable scholars writing about viruses. If you haven’t, you should read his fascinating and informative book “A Planet of Viruses”

      To me that’s very clear. However, the point of my comments was not about Carl or about Dr. Weiss (and I don’t mean that in a ironic or demeaning way). My point was about the dogma of viruses as virus particles, which has distorted our view about the nature and evolution of viruses to the extent that even the most knowledgeable people about viruses, such as Carl or about Dr. Weiss, have fallen victims to this misleading dogma.

      And, they are not alone; the entire field has been plagued by this dogma:

      “Indeed, due the dogma of viruses as virus particles, thousands of scientific articles and books written during the last century contain embarrassing errors that border the pseudo-science realm. Take for example, the following quote (7), which is highly representative of the modern, scientific description of viruses: “all viruses differ fundamentally from cells, which have both DNA and RNA, in that viruses contain only one type of nucleic acid, which may be either DNA or RNA.” Despite the common knowledge that, within their host cells, the so called DNA viruses have both nucleic acids, even James Watson, the eminent scientist who arguably knows the nucleic acids better than anyone, has failed victim to this dogma.”

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  6. Why would you assume that divergence age directly correlates with species diversity?

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  7. Your readers might be interested in the discussion on my original post: http://skepchick.org/2013/03/planet-of-the-arthropods/#comments ;in which I provide sources for those numbers, as well several non-scientists have some rather pointed things to say.

    Even if I added in Fungi as you suggested, that puts inverts at about 77%. Which rounds up to 80%.
    Remember, *you* are not my target audience.
    Using a percentage is helpful when communicating with non-scientists.
    Your suggestion that I just say "there's a lot of them" really doesn't help convey to non-specialists the way that little things dominate life on earth. A percentage also lets me convey abundance without a hard number, which as you know fluctuates as we learn more.

    I had 10 minutes on the radio, and I made the best use of them I could to increase awareness of a major conservation issue. If I had gone on and on about what a species was and the species concept...I would not be receiving any invitations back.

    If I work on getting more people to know something about insects and spiders without 100% accuracy in terms of specialized terminology and significant figures, that’s a problem for you. If I use tons of specialized terminology and qualifications, then that’s a problem for my target audience, who will turn off that radio fairly quickly. (What’s a eukaryote? What’s a fungus? What’s the line between multicellular and unicellular? What about slime molds?).

    The American news cycle runs on 60 second news bites. Blog posts are usually 500 words or LESS. Internet users spend 33 seconds on a web page, on average.
    I think it’s more important to be in the game than sit on the sidelines and snark. YMMV.

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    1. @bug_girl,

      Your claim that "invertebrates make up EIGHTY PERCENT OF ALL THE SPECIES ON EARTH" is wrong. It's as simple as that. And, sure, you have to adjust your presentation to accomodate the audience you would be speaking to. No one is criticizing you for that. But you can do that, and still make your point, without perpetuating inaccuracies. If you don't think accuracy is important when educating the public on science, then I'm not sure what there is to say. Leave the job for people who do care about accuracy, I guess.

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    2. I'll just add that, when you say this:

      If I use tons of specialized terminology and qualifications, then that’s a problem for my target audience, who will turn off that radio fairly quickly.

      You are contradicting your response on your blog to Larry's suggestion of how you could have written your post:

      http://skepchick.org/2013/03/planet-of-the-arthropods/#comment-166776

      So suddenly it's a problem that he doesn't use complicated numbers or terminology?

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    3. I openly offered to correct my 80% number if someone could show me (with suitable references) what percentage I should be using.
      That number was derived from multiple peer reviewed papers. If you, as scientists, want to quibble about the number, then yes, I would like to see Your numbers.

      So far, I haven't seen any thing other than:
      --what about the species concept?
      --what is multicellular?

      Which is not what I was asked to talk about. The media are kind of funny about wanting you to be on topic.

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    4. If we say (in a 'rude' way) that bug_girl is completely wrong in her assertion that that invertebrates make up 80% of all species (which she clearly meant multicellular species) on Earth, than, again, what should we say about Carl’s view about viruses : Viruses…they’re just protein shells that package a few genes, which they insert into a host cell”?

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    5. No, Bug Girl, this is not acceptable.

      I had 10 minutes on the radio, and I made the best use of them I could to increase awareness of a major conservation issue.

      To "increase awareness" (meaning: get publicity!) is not an acceptable reason for getting the numbers WRONG, as we have all emphasized following the ENCODE debacle.

      Recall that certain authors on the ENCODE paper, in order to "increase awareness (get publicity!!) concocted a new definition of "function" and totally misrepresented the Junk DNA hypothesis just so they could claim they disproved it.

      No, we don't care, we don't care, how desperate certain people are to get publicity.

      The number is not 80% if you're desperate for publicity, and then some much smaller number is you're not desperate for publicity. You're just invoking moral relativism: facts are different depending on how desperate you are for publicity.

      This EwanBirneyism MUST STOP. NOW.

      Compare Ewan Birney of ENCODE: “We use the bigger number because it brings home the impact of this work to a much wider audience. But we are in fact using an accurate, well-defined figure when we say that 80% of the genome has specific biological activity.” [Birney's Blog]

      [T.R. Gregory notes: “Actually, the paper says “specific biochemical function.”]

      (Ironically, both you and Ewan Birney of ENCODE came up with the same number: 80%.)

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    6. Simply dealing with fungi alone, this paper (http://www.amjbot.org/content/98/3/426.full ) suggests 5.1 million species.

      Adding in your numbers this drops invertebrates to 20% of all species, although we have still discounted most of the eukaryotic lineages.

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    7. The issue seems much simpler than you are making it out to be, bug_girl.

      80% is the proportion of species on earth that are inveterbrates, if one excludes single-celled eukaryotes, fungi, and bacteria. No one is quibbling about the accuracy of that figure. However, when you go on to say that this 80%, instead, represents the proportion of "ALL THE SPECIES ON EARTH", then that means including single-celled eukaryotes, fungi, and bacteria. So the figure is grossly inaccurate. It would be no big deal if you just admitted your error and apologized. But for some reason you are going on trying to pretend this error was not an error, and criticizing those who have pointed it out. Why?

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    8. At first I took this as a fairly light hearted joke akin to "hey, you skimmed right over my favorites!" but as I think about it I can imagine quite a few people I know just accepting that number on face value, and then ironically if I were to explain the actual bounds of that measurement they'd be less interested in science and less willing to discuss it with me because I'm always trumping everything they think they know.

      'Outside of the microscopic world,' "invertebrates make up 80% of all species" seems like a fairly pithy way to convey that we're not talking about literally ALL species, but rather the ones your target audience is most interested in anyway, and using that as a preface draws a fuzzy enough line that we could just have our nerd huddle to argue if or what fraction of fungi aren't covered by it.

      I know it's harder when you're writing a whole piece but blanket statements are especially dangerous when they present misleading definitions for the vocabulary you'd encounter in a high school classroom.

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  8. I visited bug_girl’s post and I learned that, according to Larry, the top three criteria in good science education and good science journalism are:

    1. Accuracy
    2. Accuracy
    3. Accuracy

    How should this criteria be applied, universally, or just case by case based on who is saying it, and on what ideas we try to protect or promote?

    During my visit at bug_girl’s post, I also learned that, according to Robert Thomas, the top three things that get non-scientists irritated with some scientists are:

    1. Pedantry
    2. Self-righteousness
    3. Arguing a useless point for no reason

    So, now I understand why TheOtherJim referred to one of my comments (see above) as pedantic.

    Obviously, Jim did not read the references included in the comment, otherwise, I think, he would have understood that my comment entitled “What is a virus Carl” was an ironic (not ‘rude’) play on a previous comment entitled “What is a virus Dr. Weiss?”

    Dr. Robert Weiss is a renewed virologist and outstanding scientist. He wrote a questionable (in my view) review of Carl Zimmer’s book “A Planet of Viruses” in Nature, in which he made the point that Carl’s book is ‘dumbing down’ the science of virology.

    I happen to think that Carl’s book is very interesting and informative, so I wrote a comment emphasizing the irony that he (Dr. Weiss) as well as other “seasoned virologists”, by not knowing what a virus is, have been ‘dumbing down’ the science of virology, well, forever (and it was not their fault!).

    You would think that Carl, who writes more about viruses than any other person on planet Earth would have changed his view about viruses, but I was wrong; so, I thought of reminding him about what virus is. I have hunch that Carl will never write again that: “Viruses…they’re just protein shells that package a few genes, which they insert into a host cell”. Does anybody want to bet on that?

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    1. Correction: the sentence “Dr. Robert Weiss is a renewed virologist and outstanding scientist”, in my comment above, should read: "Dr. Robin Weiss is a renowned virologist and outstanding scientist"

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  9. LM, I see you, or someone, was accused of "mansplaining" something in the comments section of bug_girl post.
    Sigh.
    Is there a similar dismissive term for a scientist explaining something?
    Again...sigh.

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  10. Ok, I went back to the paper that was the source of my numbers, added in their upper estimate for fungi, and....still get about 80% species that are inverts.
    I am happy to amend the post to make it clearer that I was talking about MULTICELLULAR organisms, which I have done.

    But you are still missing the point. To argue that the estimates we make in our research--because those numbers were from a paper in a major journal, not out of my ass--are meaningless is to argue that we then can't talk about them. There are two different things going on here:

    1. What is the actual number (which I'm happy to correct and discuss)

    2. How should we talk about things which, because of the nature of science, we will never have an exact number for? (which I think you totally don't get)

    Arguing that I shouldn't use any numbers is the same argument that is made by climate change denialists to dismiss decades of research. "You don't know for sure!"

    Nope, I don't know the firm numbers for sure. Probably never will. But I do know *proportionally* the abundance of different kinds of life on earth; and talking about that publicly in a way that motivates people is important to me.
    Not to you? Fine!
    Don't do it my way.
    But don't get in my way either.

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    1. Umm, maybe it's just me but I don't see where anyone has said you should never use numbers.

      The problem was with your taking a number that was reasonably accurate for a particular context (percentage of multicellular organisms, excluding fungi, that are inverterbrates) but then using it in a context where it was grossly, wildly inaccurate (percentage of ALL THE SPECIES ON EARTH that are invertebrates). That latter number is not 80%. Not even close to it.

      It was an error, you've now corrected it, end of story.

      Delete
    2. @bug_girl

      Thank-you for changing your statement from "EIGHTY PERCENT OF ALL THE SPECIES ON EARTH" to EIGHTY PERCENT OF ALL MULTICELLULAR SPECIES ON EARTH." I'm sorry you think this is a pedantic point. I don't. I think it's important that the general public know about species that aren't plants or animals (or fungi).

      1. What is the actual number (which I'm happy to correct and discuss)

      We don't know the actual numbers because: (a) the definition of "species" is ambiguous, and (b) we've only begun to characterize protists and bacteria. That's why I suggested that you say, "Nobody knows exactly how many species there are. There may be millions of species of bacteria and other small organisms. But among the big multicellular species, arthropods, especially insects, rule the roost. There are more known arthropod species, by far, than all plants, fungi (mushrooms etc.), and other animals combined."

      2. How should we talk about things which, because of the nature of science, we will never have an exact number for? (which I think you totally don't get)

      See above. One can do even better by explaining to the general public WHY we will never have an exact number and why we have to be cautious about quoting numbers that seem to be exact.

      Arguing that I shouldn't use any numbers is the same argument that is made by climate change denialists to dismiss decades of research. "You don't know for sure!"

      Now you're just being silly. My points were that your number was wrong—thank-you for correcting it—and that we really don't know the exact number of species in any major taxon.

      Nope, I don't know the firm numbers for sure. Probably never will. But I do know *proportionally* the abundance of different kinds of life on earth; and talking about that publicly in a way that motivates people is important to me.

      This thread has demonstrated that, in fact, you DID NOT know proportionally the percentage of arthropods relative to ALL species on Earth. You didn't even know the exact percentage there were relative to all multicellular species because you forgot to include fungi in your calculation.

      I share your concern about educating the general public. I guess we just disagree about the facts and about which important concepts need explaining.

      Not to you? Fine!
      Don't do it my way.
      But don't get in my way either.


      Is that a threat?

      Delete
  11. FFS. How can you possibly read “don’t get in my way” as a threat?
    Just to be 100% clear: it’s not a threat. It’s a request for you to stop being pedantic and wasting my time. Frankly, it never would have occurred to me in a million years that someone would think that was a threat.

    What the heck you think an imaginary blue insect-woman on the internet would threaten you *with* I am a bit curious about, though! Virtual bed bugs in your skivvies??

    I'm here, I'm trying to engage with you, I have shown that I am willing to discuss the points that you wanted to quibble with. You've moved the goal post steadily throughout this discussion.
    'Your numbers are wrong' became 'you shouldn't use numbers because we don't know.'
    I have been clear through this whole thing that I was talking about all multicellular organisms; it was YOUR interpretation that I didn't include fungi. I checked the math that I pulled from the original (peer reviewed) journal article, and got the same result.

    Now that it is clear that I am not threatening you (Really?? Wow.) I am done.

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    1. b-g, just so you know, I thought 'is that a threat?' was bizarre, too. But then, I'm used to Larry writing bizarre things.

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    2. I'm still unable to see where anyone said "You shouldn't use numbers because we don't know."

      The issue is "You shouldn't use numbers that are way, way, way off the mark."

      There is no way someone would correctly interpret ALL THE SPECIES ON EARTH as meaning "only multicellular species", with or without including fungi. "ALL THE SPECIES" means all the species.

      Suppose someone on a geology blog said the earth is "A HUNDRED TRILLION QUINTILLION DECILLION YEARS OLD" and, when taken to task, replied "I just wanted to get across that the earth is very old, and I thought that made the point in a more striking way then if I used the correct figure". Would you buy that?

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  12. Maybe animals and plants make up such a large percentage of "described" species because they are easier to describe. "Single-celled eukaryotes, fungi, and bacteria make up such a small percentage of total (described)* species (<1%) that they don't even register on this summary!" Maybe we don't know the real total number of single-celled and fungal species, but we can estimate their biomass. I assure you, they make up way more than 1% of Earth's total biomass.

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  13. Well it all started out fun and got funnier..then came the mean spirit of de-bait...sigh...so actually I will use the simple 80% of multi-cellular species, that we know of, are invertebrates...is that safe to put into a powerpoint about plant "pests" and IPM?

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  14. Didn't the original reference state; "of all described species?" ..."described" as in "named" or just generally categorized (as in categories like virus, bacteria, or invertebrates, or even multi-cellular?) How would you accurately describe percentages of described species? (BTW, I did mean "bait" as in fishing either for sport or food:>)

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