Discovery of ‘cryptic species’ shows Earth is even more biologically diverse

Excitement as DNA barcoding technique leads to unmasking of new species tempered with fear that some are already at risk of extinction

A growing number of “cryptic species” hiding in plain sight have been unmasked in the past year, driven in part by the rise of DNA barcoding, a technique that can identify and differentiate between animal and plant species using their genetic divergence.

The discovery of new species of aloe, African leaf-nosed bats and chameleons that appear similar to the human eye but are in fact many and separate have thrilled and worried conservationists. Scientists say our planet might be more biologically diverse than previously thought, and estimates for the total number of species could be far higher than the current best guess of 8.7 million. But cryptic discoveries often mean that species once considered common and widespread are actually several, some of which may be endangered and require immediate protection.

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