A total of 503 new species were discovered by scientists at London’s Natural History Museum in 2020. According to the scientists, the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the work of identifying new species at the museum. Although the museum remained closed to the public, scientists continued working behind closed doors, making findings and providing valuable information to the scientific community across the world.
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Tim Littlewood, an executive director of science at the museum, said that identifying new species can only be made possible by referencing already known species. The museum plays an important role in providing species references and continues to increase the number of known species annually by identifying new ones.
“Once again, an end of year tally of new species has revealed a remarkable diversity of life forms and minerals hitherto undescribed,” Littlewood said. “The Museum’s collection of specimens provide a resource within which to find new species as well as a reference set to recognize specimens and species as new.”
In an article published by the Natural History Museum, Littlewood noted that a decline in biodiversity across the world calls for rapid action in identifying species.
“In a year when the global mass of biodiversity is being outweighed by human-made mass it feels like a race to document what we are losing,” he said.
As time passes, many species available in nature are driven to extinction before they are even discovered. According to a United Nations Report, the native species of land-based habitats have decreased by at least 20% since 1900. The report also shows that about one-third of all marine mammal species are currently threatened.
Among the 503 new species identified this year is the unique and critically endangered Popa langur monkey.
“Monkeys are one of the most iconic groups of mammals, and these specimens have been in the collections for over a hundred years,” said Roberto Portela Miguez of the Natural History Museum. “But we didn’t have the tools or the expertise to do this work before.”
For humanity to protect more species, it is important that we start by knowing which species exist. The work being done by the Natural History Museum lays the foundation for the protection of endangered species worldwide.
Photography by Thaung Win via Natural History Museum