On the cover of Ecology Letters

My friend and collaborator, Naia Morueta Holme, just had a paper come out in the scientific journal, Ecology Letters. The study is about the distribution of rarity in the New World – where are the endemic species, and where are the large-range species? Surprisingly, this is the sort of basic question that you might imagine had been answered long ago, but hasn’t been. She found that most of the New World’s rarity is in Central America, the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest, and the Andes. Why does that matter? One of the big ideas in ecology is that the present is only a shadow of the past, such that paleoclimate leaves a strong signal on present-day distribution of biodiversity. The study found that regions with more unstable climates over time (for example, in lowlands where post-glacial climate change velocity was high) have few endemic species. Thus, this study is a hemisphere-scale demonstration that rapid climate change poses a particularly large problem for these rare species. You can read a press release about the article or download the journal article.

Scientific journals often feature a different image on their cover each month to highlight the most exciting research they are publishing. The authors of the articles can submit candidates, and Naia asked me for an image of a transition between a mountainous area (with more rare species) and a lowland area (with more large-range species). I gave her a photograph of the transition between the high Andes and the Amazon basin, and we were lucky enough to have it selected for the cover.


You can see a larger version below. The photo is taken in southeastern Peru, half an hour before sunrise. You’re looking from Tres Cruces, at an elevation of approximately 3900 meters, down into the cloud forest and lowland tropical forest of eastern Peru and western Brazil.

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Earlier this spring we were doing fieldwork at high elevation in this region, and decided to wake up one morning to see the sun come up over the Amazon. Our field camp was several kilometers’ walking from the best vantage point, so we had to have an early start.

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I still remember waking up at a little before four-o’clock in the morning, shivering in the cold air, looking up at a clear sky, navigating a ridgeline in the dark to await the beginning of the day. The sky was full of stars, and the only other light was from an occasional headlamp.

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A magical morning, and a pleasure to see this moment, and this image, find a home as advertisement for a new scientific discovery.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m working on a GRFP on the influence of mountain formation on species diversity in New Guinea, and came across this article, which seems relevant: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21981112

    Kind of fascinating this hasn’t been looked at in the New World before, but I guess continents are less obvious / easy systems for examining patterns of endemism than say, islands. Very cool study. I look forward to reading it.

    1. bblonder says:

      Thanks for the comment – I’m passing it on to Naia. There’s some recent work I’ve seen arguing also that coastal upwelling increases nutrient levels on mountain ranges, also explaining diversity hotspots. It explains why the Peruvian Andes have a lot of species but the Chilean part doesn’t, for example. Where are you off to for grad school?

      1. The upwelling is sort of a fascinating hypothesis — though I would guess latitudinal gradients of diversity play a role in Peru and Chile.

        I’m applying this fall, so nothing certain, but Berkeley, Boulder, and UW are probably the top three.

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