Scientists have found that raising the soil has contributed to the evolution of species over the past three million years. Moreover, where the surface of the Earth has risen more, new species are developing at an accelerated pace.
Scientists have long been interested in how abiotic processes affect the evolution of life. Topographic changes can indeed contribute to the formation of new species by shaping specific environmental conditions and different habitats. Soil erosion, on the contrary, can create obstacles for species radiation.
It is these processes that explain the high percentage of plant endemics in mountainous areas. Thus, it is known that the rise of the Andes leads to the rapid spread of lupins, which are endemic to this region - beautiful mountain flowers of the legume family.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge (UK) have synthesized and analyzed reconstructions of changes in the Earth's surface over the past three million years, comparing them with data on climate change over the same period. Then scientists compared the resulting picture with data on the habitat of birds and mammals. It turned out that the height of the Earth's surface above sea level has a greater effect on speciation than climate change.
Prior to this, it was believed that the formation of new species is more likely due to changes in ambient temperature and other similar parameters. The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. Interestingly, this correlation turned out to be more typical for mammals than birds.
Scientists attribute this to the fact that birds are able to fly from place to place and can more easily overcome all kinds of obstacles, so it is easier for them to find a pair to breed in other places. Birds are more affected by climate change than by topography: temperature fluctuations increase the risks of ineffective breeding in birds.
In addition to changing the habitat, topographic parameters affect speciation indirectly, because they change both micro- and macroclimate. Thus, higher temperatures at low altitudes can increase the rate of mutations due to the formation of oxygen radicals or accelerated metabolism, which increases DNA synthesis and shortens the generation time (thereby increasing the likelihood of species diversity).
“It's amazing how much altitude change has had a major impact on the world's biodiversity - it has proven to be more important than traditionally studied variables such as temperature. The rate at which species evolved in different places on Earth is closely related to changes in topography over millions of years,”said first author of the article, Dr. Javier Igea of the Faculty of Plant Science at the University of Cambridge.