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Concept: Chimborazo

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Global climate change is driving species poleward and upward in high-latitude regions, but the extent to which the biodiverse tropics are similarly affected is poorly known due to a scarcity of historical records. In 1802, Alexander von Humboldt ascended the Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador. He recorded the distribution of plant species and vegetation zones along its slopes and in surrounding parts of the Andes. We revisited Chimborazo in 2012, precisely 210 y after Humboldt’s expedition. We documented upward shifts in the distribution of vegetation zones as well as increases in maximum elevation limits of individual plant taxa of >500 m on average. These range shifts are consistent with increased temperatures and glacier retreat on Chimborazo since Humboldt’s study. Our findings provide evidence that global warming is strongly reshaping tropical plant distributions, consistent with Humboldt’s proposal that climate is the primary control on the altitudinal distribution of vegetation.

Concepts: Earth, Climate change, Solar variation, Andes, Global warming, Glacier mass balance, Alexander von Humboldt, Chimborazo

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The Neotropics harbour the most diverse flora and fauna on Earth. The Andes are a major centre of diversification and source of diversity for adjacent areas in plants and vertebrates, but studies on insects remain scarce, even though they constitute the largest fraction of terrestrial biodiversity. Here, we combine molecular and morphological characters to generate a dated phylogeny of the butterfly genus Pteronymia (Nymphalidae: Danainae), which we use to infer spatial, elevational and temporal diversification patterns. We first propose six taxonomic changes that raise the generic species total to 53, making Pteronymia the most diverse genus of the tribe Ithomiini. Our biogeographic reconstruction shows that Pteronymia originated in the Northern Andes, where it diversified extensively. Some lineages colonized lowlands and adjacent montane areas, but diversification in those areas remained scarce. The recent colonization of lowland areas was reflected by an increase in the rate of evolution of species' elevational ranges towards present. By contrast, speciation rate decelerated with time, with no extinction. The geological history of the Andes and adjacent regions have likely contributed to Pteronymia diversification by providing compartmentalized habitats and an array of biotic and abiotic conditions, and by limiting dispersal between some areas while promoting interchange across others.

Concepts: Time, Evolution, Biology, Species, Ecology, Andes, Biogeography, Chimborazo

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BackgroundHigh-altitude inhabitants have cardiovascular and respiratory adaptations that are advantageous for high-altitude living, but they may have impaired cognitive function. This study evaluated the influence of altitude of residence on cognitive and psychomotor function upon acute exposure to very high altitude.FindingsEcuadorians (31 residing at 0¿1,500 m [LOW], 78 from 1,501¿3,000 m [MOD], and 23 living >3,000 m [HIGH]) were tested upon their arrival to a hut at 4,860 m on Mount Chimborazo. Cognitive/psychomotor measurements included a go-no-go test (responding to a non-visual stimulus), a verbal fluency test (verbalizing a series of words specific to a particular category), and a hand movement test (rapidly repeating a series of hand positions). Mean differences between the three altitude groups on these cognitive/psychomotor tests were evaluated with one-way ANOVA. There were no significant differences (p¿=¿0.168) between LOW, MOD, and HIGH for the verbal fluency test. However, the go-no-go test was significantly lower (p¿<¿0.001) in the HIGH group (8.8¿±¿1.40 correct responses) than the LOW (9.8¿±¿0.61) or MOD (9.8¿±¿0.55) groups, and both MOD (97.9¿±¿31.2) and HIGH (83.5¿±¿26.7) groups completed fewer correct hand movements than the LOW (136.6¿±¿37.9) subjects (p¿<¿0.001).ConclusionsBased on this field study, high-altitude residents appear to have some impaired cognitive function suggesting the possibility of maladaptation to long-term exposure to hypobaric hypoxia.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Educational psychology, Hypoxia, Analysis of variance, Residency, Andrew Martin, Chimborazo