Cradle of life

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Science  30 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6260, pp. 496-501
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6260.496

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The Amazon rainforest contains 10% of the world's known species, making it one of the most biodiverse places in the world. But when, and why, did it come to be that way? Scientists agree that the Amazon's rich biodiversity was shaped by convulsive geological changes—mountains rising, coasts shifting, rivers changing course. By fragmenting and transforming habitats, these landscape changes would have driven bursts of speciation. But the experts differ, often vehemently, about just what form those upheavals took and which of them supercharged Amazonian speciation. Was it a flood of seawater invading the continent from the Caribbean? Or was it an extremely old mountain range rising along South America's west coast? As competing scientific teams descend on the Amazon in search of data, a solution to the longstanding mystery of its staggering species richness may finally be at hand.

  • * San Miguel and Manú National Park, Peru Photography by Jason Houston

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