Date:

Scientists Discover Secret Behind Earth’s Biodiversity Hotspots

The research suggests that biodiversity hotspots – such as the Daintree Rainforest in Australia and the Cloud Forests of Ecuador – are teeming with species because they have been ecologically stable for long periods of time, allowing evolution to forge ahead undisturbed.

The findings highlight the threat posed by climate change to some of the most extraordinary places on earth and the importance of giving nature the protection it needs to thrive, the authors of the study say.

- Advertisement -

Ecologists have long sought to understand why some areas of the planet are extraordinarily rich in species. The research set out to find an answer by focusing on the Cape Floristic Region in South Africa, a non-tropical heartland of biodiversity with around ten times as many native plant species as the UK, squeezed into an area a little smaller than Belgium.

The international team of researchers – including scientists from the University of York (UK), Nelson Mandela University and the University of Cape Town – mapped the distributions of nearly all of the region’s 9400 plant species, from the king protea to the red disa.

They found that the region’s richness could be largely explained by the fact it had not experienced major changes in its climate over the past 140,000 years.

Previous scientific theories have suggested productivity – where large amounts of energy flow through an ecosystem – might explain biodiversity hotspots, but the researchers found this only played a minor role in the Cape Floristic Region’s thronging variety of life.

- Advertisement -

Co-author of the study, Dr Colin Beale from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said: “Our research focussed on the incredible diversity of the Cape Floristic Region because the competing theories of stability versus productivity can’t be untangled in the tropics, where both are true.

“Exceptions often clarify the rule and our research shows that the environmental history of a place is important to its levels of biodiversity.

“The results suggest that climatic variation will not affect the biodiversity of all regions evenly. The impact of climate change may be greater on areas where stability has been the norm over extremely long time periods. Similarly, near major ecological boundaries, such as forest to grasslands or shrublands to semi-desert, climate change is likely to cause major, long-lasting loss of biological diversity.”

Senior author, Dr Richard Cowling from Nelson Mandela University, added: “The extraordinary diversity of the Cape Floristic Region – as rich as the most diverse tropical forest regions – contradicts the long held theory that high productivity is a requisite for high plant diversity.

“Our study shows that the environmental stability of south-western South Africa, in conjunction with the region’s rugged topography, explains diversity gradients in the region. The same hypotheses can explain tropical diversity; there is no need to invoke productivity.”

Lead author, Dr Jonathan Colville from the University of Cape Town said: “In South Africa we are fortunate to not only have incredible biodiversity, but also a uniquely detailed knowledge of where these plants are found, thanks to the collections at SANBI. This rich resource enabled us to pull together an interdisciplinary team from South Africa and the UK to tackle one of the most challenging questions in ecology and highlights how important international collaborations are to the future success of South African research and the conservation of its biodiversity.”

Co-author, Prof Brian Huntly from Durham University said: “Of particular importance was a degree of climatic stability that enabled the same broad type of ecosystem, for example Fynbos shrubland, to persist in an area, in turn supporting the persistence of species adapted to that ecosystem.”

“Plant richness, turnover and evolutionary diversity track gradients of stability and ecological opportunity in a megadiversity centre” is published in PNAS. The research was carried out by the University of York, the University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela University, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Durham University and Kew Gardens.

UNIVERSITY OF YORK

Header Image Credit : Stan Shebs

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

Study confirms palace of King Ghezo was site of voodoo blood rituals

A study, published in the journal Proteomics, presents new evidence to suggest that voodoo blood rituals were performed at the palace of King Ghezo.

Archaeologists search for home of infamous Tower of London prisoner

A team of archaeologists are searching for the home of Sir Arthur Haselrig, a leader of the Parliamentary opposition to Charles I, and whose attempted arrest sparked the English Civil War.

Tartessian plaque depicting warrior scenes found near Guareña

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM) and the CSIC have uncovered a slate plaque depicting warrior scenes at the Casas del Turuñuelo archaeological site.

Archaeologists find a necropolis of stillborn babies

Excavations by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) have unearthed a necropolis for stillborn and young children in the historic centre of Auxerre, France.

Researchers find historic wreck of the USS “Hit ‘em HARDER”

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has confirmed the discovery of the USS Harder (SS 257), an historic US submarine from WWII.

Archaeologists uncover Roman traces of Vibo Valentia

Archaeologists from the Superintendent of Archaeology Fine Arts and Landscape have made several major discoveries during excavations of Roman Vibo Valentia at the Urban Archaeological Park.

Archaeologists uncover crypts of the Primates of Poland

Archaeologists have uncovered two crypts in the collegiate church in Łowicz containing the Primates of Poland.

Giant prehistoric rock engravings could be territorial markers

Giant rock engravings along the Upper and Middle Orinoco River in South America could be territorial markers according to a new study.