In DepthEvolution

Mountains and monsoons created Tibetan biodiversity

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Science  31 Jul 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6503, pp. 493
DOI: 10.1126/science.369.6503.493

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Summary

The Hengduan Mountains, adjoining Asia's massive Tibetan Plateau, boast one of the richest alpine plant communities known. With more than 3000 species, the region is the center of diversity for many plants loved by gardeners, including Rhododendrons, Primulas, and Gentians. On p. 578, researchers reveal this alpine plant community originated some 30 million years ago, making it the world's oldest continuous alpine ecosystem. Rising mountain chains stimulated the diversification, as did intense monsoon rains. The findings have implications both for understanding how geological and meteorological forces can mold plant communities and for predicting how they might cope with future climate and landscape changes. The Hengduans' ancient flora must also cope with increasing human activities, in the form of new roads, hydroelectric dams, and growing settlements and farms.

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