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2013-11-07. Fast-Paced Evolution in the Andes.

posted Nov 13, 2013, 9:52 AM by Alan Gould
For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt:   In 1799 the great naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and his companions set out from Caracas, Venezuela, to climb the Andes. They struggled up a mountainside enveloped in mist so thick they had to clamber over rocks by hand. When the fog cleared, von Humboldt was left astonished by the view. Vast grasslands stretched all around him, home to an astonishing number of different trees, shrubs and flowers. ...Von Humboldt had stumbled into a remarkable ecosystem, known as a Páramo. Páramos blanket the Andes in Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, growing at altitudes 9,200 to 14,800 feet above sea level.  “They’re like islands in a sea of forest,” said Santiago Madriñán, an expert on Páramos at the University of the Andes in Colombia. All told, Páramos cover about 13,500 square miles — an area the size of Maryland. In that small space, Dr. Madriñán and other researchers have found 3,431 species of vascular plants, most of them found nowhere else on Earth. ...the Páramos are even more remarkable than von Humboldt could have realized. They are the fastest evolving place on the planet.... http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/science/high-above-sea-level-evolutionary-hot-spots.html. Carl Zimmer, The New York Times.