The Eastern Himalayas are home to more than 360 different songbird species, most of which are to be found nowhere else on the planet. This makes the region extending from eastern Nepal to the borderlands of China, India, and Myanmar unique and one of the most important hot spots for biological diversity in the western hemisphere. A recent research paper describes how this impressive bird community came about millions of years ago, emphasizing both the uniqueness and biological significance of this remote area. "As the Himalayan mountain range was formed, a profusion of completely different ecological niches were created," explains Professor Jochen Martens of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). "A wide variety of different songbird species were able to colonize these niches. The majority of these species did not evolve there but emigrated from the eastern and south-eastern regions of the Himalayas." Martens has been conducting research in the Himalayas for 45 years and is the co-author of the article "Niche filling slows the diversification of Himalayan songbirds" published in the eminent scientific journal NATURE.
The team of researchers from India, the US, Germany, and Sweden was able to sample and analyze the DNA of all songbirds found in the Himalayas. Team members such as Martens compiled some of the genetic material over the course of decades; some was found in old collections in European and North American museums or was taken from individual feathers collected by field workers. The scientists were surprised at the relatively large differences in the genetic makeup even between species which are apparently closely related and that often have an extremely similar appearance. On average, each bird species separated from their closest relative six to seven million years ago. The time is roughly equivalent to the period separating human beings from chimpanzees, the animal most closely related to humans.
Over the past million
|Contact: Dr. Jochen Martens|
Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz