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Study predicts areas of 'missing' species

DURHAM, N.C., July 5 (UPI) -- Most of the world's "missing" or undiscovered species live in regions already identified by scientists as biodiversity hotpots, a U.S. study says.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests recent conservation efforts have been on target and should reduce uncertainty over global conservation priorities, it authors said.

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However, the extinction threat for many of the as-yet undiscovered species is worse than previously feared, they said.

"We show that the majority of the world's 'missing species' are hiding away on some of the most threatened landscapes in the world," said Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation at Duke University. "This considerably increases the number of threatened and endangered species around the world."

And the world's knowledge of species is seriously incomplete, with many as-yet undiscovered, a Duke release said Tuesday.

"We know we have an incomplete catalogue of life," said lead author Lucas Joppa of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England, who received his doctorate in ecology from Duke in 2009.

"If we don't know how many species there are, or where they live, then how can we prioritize places for conservation? What if the places we ignore now turn out to be those with the most unknown species?"

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The researchers said six regions already identified by conservation scientists as hotspots -- Mexico to Panama; Colombia; Ecuador to Peru; Paraguay and Chile southward; southern Africa; and Australia -- were estimated to contain 70 percent of all predicted missing species.

"How can you save a species you don't even know exists?" Joppa asked. "You can't. But you can protect places where you predict they occur."

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