Darwin likes to get it hot

Evolution continues to be a curious topic for humans. It seems as though we’re always looking for explanations and new life. In past decades,  we’ve tried to find other life in our solar system. That quest for life beyond Earth has lead us to study our own planet and how it has evolved over the years.

In 1779, several hundred years before we stepped foot on the moon, Alexander von Humboldt and several companions set out from Venezuela to climb the Andes Mountains. At the end of the trek, Alexander von Humboldt discovered many species of plants and trees that were only found in that region. 400 feet above sea level, this ecosystem, known as Paramos, blanketed several parts of the continent of South America. Paramos expert Santiago Madridnan states that the Paramos ecosystems are like islands in a sea of forests. He and other scientists have found 3,431 species of vascular plants, some of which are only found in that ecosystem. The vegetation of

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Andes grasslands are  popular locations for evolutionary ecosystems. Image from New York Times.

the Paramos provides shelter and habitat for a variety of mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, and reptiles. Some animals commonly found in páramo ecosystems include the Andean Fox (sometimes called the Páramo wolf), the white-tailed deer and the Spectacled bear which occasionally forages in the high páramo for its favored food, Puya bromeliads. Invertebrates such as grasshoppers, cockroaches, beetles and flies are found in the Subparamos. Amphibian presence has been well documented in páramo ecosystems, including Bolitoglossa species of salamanders and Eleutherodactylus species such as frogs. Reptiles include lizards of the StenocercusPhenacosaurus and Proctoporus genera.

A new study reveals that von Humboldt not only found a rare ecosystem but researchers are now saying he stumbled upon the fastest evolving ecosystem on the planet. In recent years, scientists have begun to measure evolutionary speed in these areas by looking at the species’ DNA. After studying the various lineages of plant species, Madridnan concluded that the Paramos surpasses the other seven places studied in evolutionary speed.

These leaps in evolution are apparent and make the time we are living very vibrant and interesting. As more species are discovered, one would hope that textbooks will have to be rewritten to better understand our world and its inhabitants.