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Minnesota study suggests climate may play role in evolving new species

Did you ever wonder why so many different life forms are so richly abundant in the tropics?

A new University of Minnesota study suggests that climate may play a role in determining how fast new species evolve.

New species may develop faster as their predecessors evolve to adapt to changing climates, according to the research reported in the November issue of the journal Ecology Letters.

The study breaks new ground in that it shows that the rate at which species accumulate over time is strongly related to the rate at which species adapt to different climates.  

“Both rates are particularly rapid among species inhabiting tropical regions, and so our results offer a novel and surprising explanation for why so many of Earth’s species are found in the tropics,” the study’s lead author, Ken Kozak, said in a statement.

Kozak is a curator in the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis and an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the U of M. The co-author of the report is John Wiens, an associate professor at Stony Brook University.

For the study, Kozak and Wiens examined climatic and evolutionary data from 250 species of salamanders. These 250 species are found in diverse habitats ranging from the mountaintops of North America, to the cloud forests and lowland jungles of Central and South America.

The researchers also examined how overlap between species in space influenced their rate of adaptation to different climate; they found slower rates where more species overlap in their geographic ranges.

“Our findings reveal what factors influence the rate at which species adapted to climate change in the past, and suggest that interactions between species might be important in preventing the adaptation of species to human-induced climate change in the future,” Kozak said.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 10/21/2010 - 10:10 am.

    A consensus of climate forecasts for the late 21st Century puts our temperatures reaching the levels in Central Iowa. So don’t spend a lot of time looking for tropical fish in Lake Minnetonka.

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