|» The Species Gradient
» A Species Diversity Challenge
» Species Diversity Numbers
« Ontario Field Naturalist's Toolchest
|The Species Gradient
Species diversity in general gets richer towards the equator and poor towards the poles. Also species diversity tends to be much poorer in winter than in the summer (in temperate climates). The world species diversity is huge numbering in the millions. In Ontario alone over 13000 species have been cataloged although there may be as many as 20000!
As many of you are birders you may travel long distances to see birds not on your lifelist. This is true mostly of experienced birders who have seen most of the birds in their local area and want to see something new. After all, in the beginning, birding is exciting perhaps even overwhelming. But as you learn more and spend more time in the field fewer and fewer birds get added to your life list every year. At some point a birder might only add a few new birds a year. Hence the urge to step outside your local area. Some may drive a few hours to follow up on a rare bird sighting others may travel abroad to see potentially hundreds of new birds at once.
Its fun but it does require a lot of gas and the travel time can be exhausting. An alternative is to try to find other types of fauna or flora. Running out of birds? Try butterflies, dragonflies, ferns, etc. Even if you stay relatively close to home (say 80 kilometers or less), there is likely to be over 7000 species within that area to find. Surely enough to keep anyone busy for a lifetime.
A Species Diversity Challenge: 2000 local organisms
I believe an interesting challenge would be to find all the species you can regardless of where they are on the tree of life within a small geographical area. If a person spent enough time at it they could rack up almost as much as the world champions of birding. The world record for number of bird species seen is 8725 by Tom Gullick. Fewer than 100 people have gotten over 5000 species (according to SurfBirds.com). The total known bird species is approximately 10000.
The amount of travel required to rack up 8725 species is incredible. You have to travel the world and hit all the hotspots many many times. Unfortunately with the effort required to see these species little time is left over to observe behavior and to get to know the birds let alone all the other flora and fauna. If all the flora and fauna within a limited geographical area were pursued more complete knowledge of nature could be achieved. While many behaviors would still go unnoticed, this pursuit would teach much about the interconnections within the ecosystems.
A world bird search versus a local all life search would be different in many ways. The main expense of a world bird search is travel. A local all-life search would have much less motorized travel, but would require plenty of non-motorized travel to reach remote road-less areas. The main expense of a local all-life search would be field guides and gear (optics, nets, clothing etc).
A local search could be defined as anything within a fifty mile radius. Or the circle could be smaller or for the terribly ambitious larger. Of the known 13000 species seen, I estimate that 7000 species could be seen within a fifty mile radius. No one can actually see everything in an area, only a percentage of it. After 75% is seen seeing more becomes extremely hard. So maybe 5000 species is achievable. To actually do that would be nuts. If you actually found 5000 species in your own area you would come closer to knowing nature than even most naturalists -- even the keen ones. Why is this? Don't listers just list creatures not learn about them in detail? An all-life search is different. To do an all-life search properly you must know a lot about the interconnections between organisms. As some people say -- habitat, habitat, habitat -- is important to find birds. That goes for everything. Even though some components of habitats are nonliving (like rocks), every living being is a habitat or a component of a habitat for another living being.
I suggest that 2000 species would be a more reachable target. And to be fair, it is not always practical to get right down to species level so genus, family or even order is acceptable. 2000 organisms is about what you could achieve if you utilitized all the (non-redundant) field guides on this website and got most of the common stuff and a fair chunk of the uncommon stuff with a small amount of sweet rare stuff. I figure 2000 could be acheived within five years. 5000 or more would take a lifetime, require using most of the identification keys you could find and also require making large collections particularly of insects (as you can't take all your identification materials with you into the field).
Species Diversity Numbers
Fish: Can 1100/513
Fungi: Can 11800/3800
Plants: World 230000 Flowering 200000 Coniferous 500 Ferns & Allies 10000 Mosses&Liverworts 160000
Plants: Canada 50000 Flowering 4000
Beetles: Ont 3835
Birds: 295 
Mammals: 53 
Amphibians and Reptiles: 27 
Butterflies: ~80 
Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies): 102 
Moths: ~700 
Other insects: ~400 families (5000 to 10000 species) 
Freshwater Fishes: 60
Freshwater Jellyfish: 1
Other Invertebrates forms: 50
Spiders of North America 798
Mosses of North America 1358
Liverworts of North America 534
Ferns of North America 706
Tiger Beetles of Canada: 30
Scorpion Flies of Here: 8
Lady bugs of Ontario: 25
Moths outnumber butterflies 16 to 1
Trees and shrubs: 500 (200)
Herbs (most of the wildflowers): 500 + (?/1100)
Grasses, sedges, rushes: 610
Mushrooms and Fungi (Macro fungi seen by eye): 500
Ice Halos: 83
Other Atmospheric Phenomena: 43
Minerals 4224 world