By combining distributions and phylogenies for large groups of birds, it is now possible to disentangle the relative roles of contemporary ecology and history in explaining the distribution of biodiversity on earth. In South America, avian lineages, which represent radiations during the warm parts of the Tertiary, are best represented in the tropical lowlands and Andean forelands. During the upper Tertiary, diversification was most intense in the tropical Andes region, with recruitment back into the tropical lowlands and into South America's open biomes. Within the tropical Andes, endemism (mean inverse range size) and mean branch length (number of phylogenetic nodes on lineages) increase from the foothills up to the tree line and then decline again in the barren highlands, suggesting that the tree-line zone plays a special role in the diversification process. The resulting endemism is locally aggregated, often with marked peaks in areas immediately adjacent to ancient population centers. Thus, the process of evolution of new species is linked with local factors that, over a shorter time perspective, were also favorable for people. If we want to maintain the process of diversification, it becomes essential to supplement the traditional approach of preserving biodiversity in wilderness areas with few people with efforts to support sustainable development in populated areas.
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Vol. 96 • No. 3