Exploring Africa’s Unstudied Biodiversity: A Race Against Time

Africa is a continent bursting with biodiversity, with approximately a quarter of the world’s species of plants and animals found on the continent. However, despite its abundance of unique species and biomes, a recent study has found that huge swathes of Africa remain unstudied and their species undocumented.

Biodiversity is crucial for human survival as different species and biomes provide ecosystem services such as food, clothing, potable water, and the very air we breathe. The disappearance of a seemingly unimportant animal, like a certain species of bee, may result in the extinction of certain plant species, affecting not only humans but other species as well.

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Experts have estimated that each country, globally, must protect the biodiversity of 30 per cent of its territory by 2030 to at least mitigate the effects of ongoing environmental damage. But at the current rate of discovery, it may take more than 150 years to visit every 100km x 100km area in Africa even once. And, our analysis suggests, one visit won’t be enough. It may take up to 27 field expeditions to document just 50 per cent of an area’s existing species.

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If scientists don’t start venturing outside well-mapped areas, thousands of new species will remain undocumented. Adequate data is crucial to identifying and delineating species boundaries, understanding spatial biodiversity patterns and effectively promoting species conservation. We cannot protect what we don’t know. Therefore, it is vital for scientists to begin exploring Africa’s unstudied areas in order to document and protect the continent’s unique biodiversity before it’s too late.

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