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Global estimates of total insect biodiversity may have to be reduced following a study published in this week's Nature.

Novotny et al discovered that rather than having very specific food requirements, most insects in New Guinea can feed on a number of different plant species. This calls into question the usual premise that the number of insect species should be in line with the diversity of plant resources in tropical rainforests.

The results of this new study suggest that previous global estimates of insect biodiversity may therefore have been hugely inflated. Rather than a potential 31 million arthropod species worldwide, they say there may be as few as four million.

Reference: Nature 416, 841 (2002)

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