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This Spot in the Andes May Be the Fastest-Evolving Place on Earth

Like isolated islands, evolution in these mountainous, unique environments high in the mountains of South America seems to be ticking away at a faster beat than run-of-the-mill habitats

Few outside of the ecological community have likely heard of páramos—high, tropical habitats that occur in mountainous regions, above the tree line, but below areas that receive snow. Despite their obscurity, however, scientists get very excited about these ecosystems, which are known to be hotbeds of evolutionary activity. One new study, in fact, names páramos in South America as the most likely candidate for the world’s quickest evolving natural community.  

The environment in question occurs in the Andes, stretching between Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, the New York Times writes.

All told, Páramos cover about 13,500 square miles — an area the size of Maryland. In that small space, Dr. Madriñán and other researchers have found 3,431 species of vascular plants, most of them found nowhere else on Earth. The Páramos are home to strange variations on familiar forms, such as a daisy known as Espeletia uribei that grows as tall as trees.

Like isolated islands, evolution in these mountainous, unique environments seems to be ticking away at a faster beat than run-of-the-mill habitats, where genetic anomalies may be watered down by a multitude of organisms contributing to the gene pool. Madriñán and his colleagues examined the genetic markers in 13 species samples collected throughout the páramos. Those markers, in the form of mutation accumulation, allowed them to determine how long ago two species split from their common ancestor, thus providing a window into the pace of evolution.

Next, they compared those rates with preexisting figures for other fast-paced ecosystems, the Times writes, such as Hawaii and the Galapagos. The páramos proved to be the speediest of all, the researchers report, likely due to their isolation and the temperamental nature of the habitat they call home. “You may be in total mist and then half an hour later you are in total sunshine,” Madriñán told the Times.

Few outside of the ecological community have likely heard of páramos—high, tropical habitats that occur in mountainous regions, above the tree line, but below areas that receive snow. Despite their obscurity, however, scientists get very excited about these ecosystems, which are known to be hotbeds of evolutionary activity. One new study, in fact, names páramos in South America as the most likely candidate for the world’s quickest evolving natural community.  

The environment in question occurs in the Andes, stretching between Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, the New York Times writes.

All told, Páramos cover about 13,500 square miles — an area the size of Maryland. In that small space, Dr. Madriñán and other researchers have found 3,431 species of vascular plants, most of them found nowhere else on Earth. The Páramos are home to strange variations on familiar forms, such as a daisy known as Espeletia uribei that grows as tall as trees.

Like isolated islands, evolution in these mountainous, unique environments seems to be ticking away at a faster beat than run-of-the-mill habitats, where genetic anomalies may be watered down by a multitude of organisms contributing to the gene pool. Madriñán and his colleagues examined the genetic markers in 13 species samples collected throughout the páramos. Those markers, in the form of mutation accumulation, allowed them to determine how long ago two species split from their common ancestor, thus providing a window into the pace of evolution.

Next, they compared those rates with preexisting figures for other fast-paced ecosystems, the Times writes, such as Hawaii and the Galapagos. The páramos proved to be the speediest of all, the researchers report, likely due to their isolation and the temperamental nature of the habitat they call home. “You may be in total mist and then half an hour later you are in total sunshine,” Madriñán told the Times.




Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/this-spot-in-the-andes-may-be-the-fastest-evolving-place-on-earth-180947676/#o87ItOZCBp4D7UPH.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

Few outside of the ecological community have likely heard of páramos—high, tropical habitats that occur in mountainous regions, above the tree line, but below areas that receive snow. Despite their obscurity, however, scientists get very excited about these ecosystems, which are known to be hotbeds of evolutionary activity. One new study, in fact, names páramos in South America as the most likely candidate for the world’s quickest evolving natural community.  

The environment in question occurs in the Andes, stretching between Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, the New York Times writes.

All told, Páramos cover about 13,500 square miles — an area the size of Maryland. In that small space, Dr. Madriñán and other researchers have found 3,431 species of vascular plants, most of them found nowhere else on Earth. The Páramos are home to strange variations on familiar forms, such as a daisy known as Espeletia uribei that grows as tall as trees.

Like isolated islands, evolution in these mountainous, unique environments seems to be ticking away at a faster beat than run-of-the-mill habitats, where genetic anomalies may be watered down by a multitude of organisms contributing to the gene pool. Madriñán and his colleagues examined the genetic markers in 13 species samples collected throughout the páramos. Those markers, in the form of mutation accumulation, allowed them to determine how long ago two species split from their common ancestor, thus providing a window into the pace of evolution.

Next, they compared those rates with preexisting figures for other fast-paced ecosystems, the Times writes, such as Hawaii and the Galapagos. The páramos proved to be the speediest of all, the researchers report, likely due to their isolation and the temperamental nature of the habitat they call home. “You may be in total mist and then half an hour later you are in total sunshine,” Madriñán told the Times.




Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/this-spot-in-the-andes-may-be-the-fastest-evolving-place-on-earth-180947676/#o87ItOZCBp4D7UPH.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

Travel History through South America

Beginning in the 1499, the people and natural resources of South America were repeatedly exploited by foreign conquistadors, first from Spain and later from Portugal. These competing colonial nations claimed the land and resources as their own and divided it into colonies.

European diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles and typhus) to which the native populations had no resistance decimated the American population, as well as cruel systems of forced labor (such as encomiendas and mining industry's mita) under Spanish control. Following this, African slaves, who had developed immunity to these diseases, were quickly brought in to replace them.

The Spaniards were committed to converting their American subjects to Christianity and were quick to purge any native cultural practices that hindered this end. However, most initial attempts at this were only partially successful; American groups simply blended Catholicism with their traditional beliefs. The Spaniards did not impose their language to the degree they did their religion. In fact, the missionary work of the Roman Catholic Church in Quechua, Nahuatl, and Guarani actually contributed to the expansion of these American languages, equipping them with writing systems.

The history of South America is the study of the past, particularly the written record, oral histories, and traditions, passed down from generation to generation on the continent of South America. South America has a history that spans a wide range of human cultural and civilizational forms. While millennia of independent development were interrupted by the Portuguese and Spanish colonization drive of the late 15th century and the demographic collapse that followed, the continent's mestizo and indigenous cultures remain quite distinct from those of their colonizers. Through the trans-Atlantic slave trade, South America (especially Brazil) became the home of millions of people in the African diaspora. The mixing of races led to new social structures. The tensions between colonial countries in Europe, indigenous peoples and escaped slaves shaped South America from the 16th through the 19th centuries. With the revolution for independence from the Spanish crown during the 19th century, South America underwent yet more social and political changes among them nation building projects, European immigration waves, increased trade, colonization of hinterlands, and wars about territory ownership and power balance, the reorganization of Indian rights and duties, liberal-conservative conflicts among the ruling class, and the subjugation of Indians living in the states' frontiers, that lasted until the early 1900s.

In the Paleozoic era, South America and Africa were connected. By the end of the Mesozoic, South America was a massive, biologically rich island. Over millions of years, the type of life living in South America became radically different than that of the rest of the world.

Later on, South America connected with North America. This caused several migrations of tougher, North American mammal carnivores. The result was that hundreds of South American species went extinct. However, some species were able to adapt and spread into North America. These species include the giant sloths and the terror birds.

 

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Few outside of the ecological community have likely heard of páramos—high, tropical habitats that occur in mountainous regions, above the tree line, but below areas that receive snow. Despite their obscurity, however, scientists get very excited about these ecosystems, which are known to be hotbeds…

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Visit the earliest permanent settlements in South America

Cañaris

The Cañaris were the indigenous natives of today's Ecuadorian provinces of Cañar and Azuay. They were an elaborate civilization with advanced architecture and religious belief. Most of their remains were either burned or destroyed from attacks by the Inca and later the Spaniards. Their old city "Guapondelig", was replaced twice, first by the Incan city of Tomipamba, and later by the Colonial city of Cuenca. The city was also believed to be the site of El Dorado, the city of gold from the mythology of Colombia. The Cañaris were most notable to have repelled the Incan invasion with fierce resistance for many years until they fell to Tupac Yupanqui. It is said that the Inca strategically married the cañari princes Paccha to conquer the Cañaris. Many of their descendants are still present in Cañar with a reasonable amount not having mixed and have been reserved from becoming mestizos.

HIstory Travel through the Amazon

Andean civilizations

The Caral Supe civilization is among the oldest civilizations in the Americas, going back to 27th century BCE. It is noteworthy for having absolutely no signs of warfare. It was contemporary with urbanism's rise in Mesopotamia.

Norte Chico

On the north-central coast of present-day Peru, the Norte Chico civilization emerged around the time of Caral-Supe civilization.

Chavín

The Chavín, a South American preliterate civilization, established a trade network and developed agriculture by 900 BCE, according to some estimates and archeological finds. Artifacts were found at a site called Chavín de Huantar in modern Peru at an elevation of 3,177 meters. Chavín civilization spanned 900 to 200 BCE.

Moche

The Moche thrived on the north coast of Peru 2000–1500 years ago. The heritage of the Moche comes down to us through their elaborate burials, recently excavated by UCLA's Christopher B. Donnan in association with the National Geographic Society. Skilled artisans, the Moche were a technologically advanced people who traded with faraway peoples, like the Maya. Almost everything we know about the Moche comes from their ceramic pottery with carvings of their daily lives. We know from these records that they practiced human sacrifice, had blood-drinking rituals, and that their religion incorporated non-procreative sexual practices (such as fellatio).

Tiwanaku

The Tiwanaku were settled in Bolivia in around 400 BC.

Inca

Holding their capital at the great puma-shaped city of Cuzco, the Inca civilization dominated the Andes region from 1438 to 1533. Known as Tawantin suyu, or "the land of the four regions", in Quechua, the Inca civilization was highly distinct and developed. Inca rule extended to nearly a hundred linguistic or ethnic communities, some 9 to 14 million people connected by a 25,000 kilometer road system. Cities were built with precise, unmatched stonework, constructed over many levels of mountain terrain. Terrace farming was a useful form of agriculture. There is evidence of excellent metalwork and even successful skull surgery in Inca civilization. The Incas had no written language, but used quipu, a system of knotted strings, to record information.

Arawac and Carib civilizations

The Arawak, lived along the eastern coast of South America, as far south as what is now Brazil, and up into Guayana. When first encountered by Christopher Columbus, the Arawak were described as a peaceful people, although the Arawak had already dominated other local groups such as the Ciboney. The Arawak had, however, come under increasing military pressure from the Caribs, who are believed to have left the Orinoco river area to settle in the Caribbean. Over the century leading up to Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean archipelago in 1492, the Caribs are believed to have displaced many of the Arawaks who previously settled the island chains, and making inroads into what would now be modern Guyana. The Caribs were skilled boatbuilders and sailors, and owed their dominance in the Caribbean basin to their military skills. Cannibalism formed a key part of the Caribs' war rituals: the limbs of victims may have been taken home as trophies. It is not known how many indigenous peoples lived in Venezuela and Colombia before the Spanish Conquest; it may have been approximately one million, included groups such as the Auaké, Caquetio, Mariche, and Timoto-cuicas.The number was reduced after the Conquest, mainly through the spread of new diseases from Europe. There were two main north-south axes of pre-Columbian population; producing maize in the west and manioc in the east. Large parts of the llanos plains were cultivated through a combination of slash and burn and permanent settled agriculture.

European colonization

Before the arrival of Europeans, an estimated 30 million people lived in South America.

Between 1452 and 1493, a series of papal bulls (Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontifex, and Inter caetera) paved the way for the European colonization and Catholic missions in the New World, authorizing the ability of European Christian nations to take possession of non-Christian lands and encouraging the enslavement of the non-Christian people of Africa and the Americas.[14]

In 1494, Portugal and Spain, the two great maritime powers of that time, signed the Treaty of Tordesilhas on the expectation of new lands being discovered in the west. Through the treaty they agreed that all the land outside Europe should be an exclusive duopoly between the two countries. The treaty established an imaginary line along a north-south meridian 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands, roughly 46° 37' W. In terms of the treaty, all land to the west of the line (which is now known to include most of the South American soil), would belong to Spain, and all land to the east, to Portugal. Because accurate measurements of longitude were not possible at that time, the line was not strictly enforced, resulting in a Portuguese expansion of Brazil across the meridian.

In 1498, during his third voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus sailed near the Orinoco Delta and then landed in the Gulf of Paria (Actual Venezuela). Amazed by the great offshore current of freshwater which deflected his course eastward, Columbus expressed in his moving letter to Isabella I and Ferdinand II that he must have reached heaven on Earth (terrestrial paradise):

Great signs are these of the Terrestrial Paradise, for the site conforms to the opinion of the holy and wise theologians whom I have mentioned. And likewise, the [other] signs conform very well, for I have never read or heard of such a large quantity of fresh water being inside and in such close proximity to salt water; the very mild temperateness also corroborates this; and if the water of which I speak does not proceed from Paradise then it is an even greater marvel, because I do not believe such a large and deep river has ever been known to exist in this world.