High Mountains, High Diversity: For How Long Have the Andes Controlled South America’s Biodiversity? A Study of the Geological Evolution of One of Today’s Most Important “Biodiversity Hotspots”

With the aid of stable hydrogen isotopes in volcanic glass, an international research team, including Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum (Frankfurt, Germany) geoscientist Prof. Dr. Andreas Mulch, has studied the uplift history of the Andes Plateau. In their study, published on October 9, 2023 in PNAS, the scientists show that individual sections of today’s biodiversity hotspot rose to their current elevation only 13 to 9 million years ago. The formation of the Andes is considered decisive for the development of biodiversity in South America. The PNAS article is titled “Miocene Surface Uplift and Orogenic Evolution of the Southern Andean Plateau (Central Puna), Northwestern Argentina. The slopes of the Andes are home to the world’s largest centers of biodiversity: vicuñas, llamas, spectacled bears, and Andean foxes can be found in the longest mountain range on earth--spanning approximately 9,000 kilometers (approximately 5,600 miles)--along with the rabbit-sized pudu deer and the Andean condor, which boasts a wingspan of three meters or more.
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