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UA Study Finds Drought, Not Temperature, Drives Biodiversity In Evolution

A University of Arizona study took a detailed look at the role that temperature plays in evolution and biodiversity. The researchers were surprised at what they found.

The team of scientists set out to examine a long-standing hypothesis that temperature plays a key role in evolution and biodiversity. The presumption was that the tropics have more biodiversity than polar regions because of the warmer temperatures.

But evolutionary biologist Brian Enquist says they found a more nuanced view of that hypothesis.

“And what we found was that, to our big surprise, that instead of temperature, we found that drought and seasonal variation in rainfall, rather than temperature, were actually the most important drivers of variation in biological diversity via measurements of evolutionary diversity,” Enquist said.

The work has implications for climate change modeling, because only a small set of species have the ability to cope with extreme temperatures and drought.

Ron Dungan has lived in Arizona for more than 35 years. He has worked as a reporter, construction worker, copy editor, designer and freelance writer. He's a graduate of the University of Iowa, where he was a member of the undergraduate Writers’ Workshop, and has a master’s in history from Arizona State University.Dungan was an outdoors reporter and member of the storyteller team at the Arizona Republic, where he won several awards, and was a contributor on a border project that won the 2018 Pulitzer for explanatory reporting.When not working, Dungan enjoys books, gardening, hanging out with his German shorthaired pointer, backpacking and fly-fishing. He's a fan of the Arizona Cardinals and Iowa Hawkeyes.