Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Biodiversity at changing altitudes

Many people in the developing world depend on traditional medicine for healthcare, which is linked to understanding plant biodiversity. Researchers have shed light on how a changing altitude affects the evolutionary history and biodiversity of plants.
Biodiversity at changing altitudes
Human lives have heavily depended on floral biodiversity for millennia, and biological resources are still paramount for human livelihood. Understanding how humans rely on nature for their livelihoods is an important goal of biodiversity research and ethnobotany.

The EU-funded BIODIVERSITYALTITUDE (Plant evolutionary and ethnobotanical diversity changes along an altitudinal gradient) initiative worked to reveal patterns in biodiversity turnover and evolution along a changing altitude using modern methods. The researchers shed light on the processes that shape plant biodiversity and plant usage in changing ecosystems.

To understand these processes better, the researchers used large biodiversity data sets and several modern comparative methods.

BIODIVERSITYALTITUDE chose the altitudinal gradient of the Nepalese Himalaya, where traditional herbal medicine makes it an ideal area to study ethnobotanical diversity. The researchers collated databases of the altitudinal ranges of plants and their uses, and generated a genus-level phylogeny of the flora.

The researchers found that plant biodiversity initially increases with altitude, until it reaches a diversity peak at around 1 300 to 1 800 m, after which point it decreases with altitude. BIODIVERSITYALTITUDE showed that conservation strategies should consider evolutionary history, as lower species diversity at higher altitudes does not necessarily imply a less diverse community.

In an additional study, BIODIVERSITYALTITUDE investigated patterns in palm tree use in South America. The researchers found that reliance on availability may have limited ethnic use of wild plant diversity since rare yet important clades may have been overlooked.

These results provided important findings in biodiversity and ecosystem services research, which can be used in conservation programmes. This can help maintain ecosystem resilience to meet societal needs in a changing world.

Related information


Traditional medicine, plant biodiversity, evolutionary history, ethnobotany, BIODIVERSITYALTITUDE
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