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Tropical Evolution Accelerated

Via “Tropical mammals are evolving faster than those found at high latitudes or elevations, according to a study published online today (June 23) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This pattern had previously been found in plants and marine protists [algae, plankton, amoebae, etc.] but until now was assumed to apply only to cold-blooded organisms.”

The study’s authors, Auckland University of Technology evolutionary biologist Len Gillman and colleagues, propose a couple of hypotheses. The first, known as the Red Queen hypothesis, suggests that because the parasites and plants that mammals interact with are evolving at a faster rate, there is “coevolutionary” pressure for mammals to keep up in response. An alternate explanation is that non-tropical mammals are just slow — that is, climate-related behavioral adapations like hibernation may reduce the mammals’ annual average metabolic rate, decreasing the chance of an evolutionary mutation spreading through the population. (Tropical mammals have more fun!) It’s likely that a combination of these mechanisms is responsible for the findings. Not clear yet is whether the molecular evolution of tropical mammals is actually leading to faster development of new species.

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