Biological cold spots will become the new hot spots

Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science researchers have discovered that bird species, such as the white-browed purpletuft (Iodopleura isabellae) pictured here, may rapidly diversify in areas like deserts and mountaintops, rather than biodiversity hotspots like the Amazon Rainforest. Credit: Edson Endrigo

Ecological cold spots for species today may become the hot spots for wildlife of tomorrow, according to new research. While conservationists often focus on protecting areas rife with diversity, such as the Amazon Rainforest, new species may not form there as often as previously believed. Relatively less diverse areas like deserts and mountains may provide conditions that lead to more species diversification, according to research published recently in Science. Researchers studying a large group of tropical birds called suboscine passerines — including many specimens of the birds that were held in natural history collections — found that relatively barren areas might provide new species with more space to evolve compared to packed lush tropical rainforest areas. They found that the high diversity of these birds in tropical areas was the result of a slow accumulation over time, whereas the highest speciation rates happened in colder, dryer, less stable areas. The findings have consequences for conservation strategy, as they imply that not only do current biological hot spots need protection, but the places where such speciation develops need to be conserved as well.

Read more at Louisiana State University.