Climate lore

Published: Tuesday 31 March 2009

Variations in climate history pinpoint biodiversity hotpots

ecologists are yet to discover all the biodiversity-rich areas on this earth. One way is to map out each region after physical observation. But mapping inaccessible mountainous terrains like the Himalayas is a challenge. A scientific team claimed studying the climatic history of a region can help locate species-rich areas. The study also revealed that there could be areas of low and high species diversity within a biodiversity that has already been mapped.

Brazil's Atlantic Forest has high biological diversity. Based on the new principle, the researchers pinpointed the central region of the forest to have greater genetic diversity than its southern region. They explained that this was because the central region of the Atlantic forest had seen less climatic variations in the late quaternary (geological era which extends up to the present day) period than the southern region over the last 20,000 years.

To confirm the new method, the team collected genetic data from three frog species occurring across the forest. The frog species in the central region had greater genetic diversity than its southern counterpart. This proved that due to climatic upheavals in the southern part, species were in a transitory phase whereas the central part had been stable. Hence it acted as a refugium for species to carry on undisturbed and increase their genetic diversity.

Greater genetic diversity increases the adaptability and hence the chances of survival of a species. This in turn leads to a higher species diversity, explained the study that was published in the February 6 issue of Science.

"We can identify areas that have been working as refugia for biodiversity within the hotspots," said Ana Carolina Carnaval, lead researcher from the University of California, US. Regions that haven't been sampled and could harbour undiscovered diversity can now be identified with this method.

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