A Global Biodiversity Estimate of a Poorly Known Taxon: phylum Tardigrada

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Although many estimates of species numbers have been attempted using various techniques, many smaller phyla remain poorly known without such estimates. For most of these it is unclear if they are species-poor or just poorly studied. The phylum Tardigrada is one of these phyla. Specialists have created a regularly updated checklist for the known tardigrade species, which as of 15 July 2013 listed 1190 taxa (species and subspecies). Of these, 1008 are limnoterrestrial and 182 are marine. These were the most up-to-date data at the time of our analysis. As species accumulation curves show little sign of levelling out, they do not provide a useful tool for estimating global tardigrade diversity from existing species numbers. A new technique has recently been developed that uses the more complete knowledge of higher taxonomic levels to estimate the asymptotic number of species. We applied this technique to limnoterrestrial and marine tardigrades. We estimate that the global total for limnoterrestrial tardigrades is 1145 (upper 95% CI = 2101), and the global total for marine tardigrades is 936 (upper 95% CI = 1803). This yields 87% completeness for our knowledge of limnoterrestrial tardigrades, and only 19% completeness for our knowledge of marine tardigrades. Thus, although many more marine species remain to be discovered, it appears that tardigrades are both poorly studied and relatively species poor.