MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL -- An eight-year National Science Foundation-funded study of New Guinean rainforest plants and the insects that feed on them has yielded a new and dramatically lower estimate of the number of species on the planet. The estimate, which lowers the number of species from approximately 31 million to between four and six million, is based on the finding that insects specialize their feeding not on individual species of plants, but on genera and even families of plants. In "bringing some reality" to estimates of world biodiversity, the study allows scientists to get a better handle on how fast species are being lost, said University of Minnesota plant biologist George Weiblen, the principal plant expert on the research team. The work will be published in the April 25 issue of Nature.
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