New species are more likely to emerge in extreme environment ‘coldspots’ rather than ‘hotspots’ like the Amazon rainforest

New species are more likely to emerge in extreme environment ‘coldspots’ rather than ‘hotspots’ like the Amazon rainforest
Coldspots like those within the Andes (seen above) could be more conducive for fostering new species, concludes new studyWikimedia
  • The common belief that conserving ‘hotspots’ like the Amazon rainforest are the best bet to maintain biodiversity is being contested by a new study published in Science.
  • The researchers show that while’ hotspots’ are the most diverse, ‘coldspots’ is where there is more elbow room for new species to emerge.
  • As the planet faces what some are calling the ‘sixth mass extinction,’ the study proposes augmenting conservation efforts to foster coldspot environments as well.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse ‘hotspots’ of the world. Yet, it may not be the best place for new species to emerge.

A new study published in Science calls this the ‘paradox of diversity’. It concludes that extreme environments like deserts, mountains or other ‘coldspots’ would be better equipped to handle rapid diversification of species than tropical regions, which are already crowded with existing species.

It’s not that the hotspots aren’t important. While coldspots are relatively empty, they are also dry and unstable environments. This is why once new species emerge and evolve, they move to more comfortable environments — like the tropical biodiversity hotspots.

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New species are more likely to emerge in extreme environment ‘coldspots’ rather than ‘hotspots’ like the Amazon rainforest
Biodiversity hotspots. Original proposal in green, and added regions in blue.Wikimedia

For environmental conservationists, this means that efforts need to look beyond the Amazon or the Nicobar islands to areas like the Andes Mountains, according to the director of the Louisiana State University (LSU) Museum of Natural History, Robb Brumfield.

New species are more likely to emerge in extreme environment ‘coldspots’ rather than ‘hotspots’ like the Amazon rainforest
Vicunas (Vicugna vicugna), once highly endangered, graze in around Laguna Santa Rosa in Chile's national park, a significant coldspot of biodiversity in the Andean ecosystemWikimedia

The ‘paradox of diversity’
This is not the first time that scientists have suggested that a paradox between coldspots and hotspots exists.

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In 2019, research analysing plant extinction noted that hotspots lose more species and lose them faster than coldspots. But, coldspots stand to lose more uniqueness if they’re not conserved.

New species are more likely to emerge in extreme environment ‘coldspots’ rather than ‘hotspots’ like the Amazon rainforest
Researchers Michael Harvey and Gustavo Bravo spent months preserving samples up remote streams in Amazonia and rugged mountain ranges in the AndesMichael Harvey/University of Texas

This comes at a time that some ecologists are calling it the ‘ sixth mass extinction’. The United Nations (UN) pegs that the planet is seeing an unprecedented loss of species with nearly a million under threat of extinction.

Another study determined that 571 plant species have already disappeared from the face of the Earth.
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