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Warm spell spurred tropical biodiversity

Number of plant species rose along with atmospheric carbon dioxide

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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