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Warm spell spurred tropical biodiversity

Number of plant species rose along with atmospheric carbon dioxide

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2:13pm, November 11, 2010

Some like it hot, including the plants living in South America’s tropical rain forests 56 million years ago.

As global average temperatures spiked 5 degrees Celsius over a period of 10,000 years — a geologic blink of an eye — plant diversity in northern South America also soared, researchers report in the Nov. 12 Science.

“We were expecting to find rapid extinction, a total change in the forest,” says study leader Carlos Jaramillo, a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama. “What we found was just the opposite — a very fast addition of many new species, and a huge spike in the diversity of tropical plants.”

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