Páramo is the world’s fastest evolving and coolest biodiversity hotspot

The high altitude Páramo ecosystems of Northwest South and Central America cover very small areas geographically but are packed with species, 3500 in a total area that is half that of Scotland that only has 1000 species. This region has been the subject of studies by rbgeColombia collaborator Santiago Madriñán of the University of the Andes. Together with Andrés Cortés, now studying for a PhD at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, we have recently published a paper that determines that this ecosystem is the fastest evolving biodiversity hotspot on earth. Species evolve over shorter periods in Páramo than in other hotspots. Despite it being located in the tropics the fact that it is found in the high Andes means that it experiences extremely cold night time temperatures that also make it the coolest hotspot on earth. We hope that our work will demonstrate the importance of Páramo, not only from the point of view of evolutionary studies, but also because this ecosystem provides valuable services as it harbours many of the reservoirs that provide water for cities throughout the Andean region. The ecosystem is threatened by climate change, mining activity and agricultural expansion. In the face of increasing temperatures plants have three options, to adapt to the changes, to migrate or to go extinct. Our work demonstrates that their capacity to adapt is low. Whether they can migrate fast enough to survive seems unlikely and, being high alpine plants, they have only a limited area into which they can migrate.

The paper can be found in the journal Frontiers in Genetics at http://www.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fgene.2013.00192/abstract

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Laguna de San Rafael, Parque Nacional Natural Puracé, Cauca, Colombia. Photo: María Camila Gómez-Gutiérrez.

rbgeColombia team member María Camila Gómez-Gutiérrez continues to study this region by determining in more detail how populations of species in the sedge genus Oreobolus and a genus in the Melastomataceae family, Castratella, may have been affected by climate changes over the course of the last two million years.

Through our work we aim to highlight the plight of the Páramo and other unique and valuable ecosystems.

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Parque Nacional Natural Sumapaz, Cundinamarca, Colombia. Photo: María Camila Gómez-Gutiérrez.

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