Systematic DNA Analysis of Mount Kinabalu Biodiversity: Implications

Systematic DNA Analysis of Mount Kinabalu Biodiversity: Implications

Question: Recently, scientists have carried out a systematic DNA analysis of biodiversity on World Heritage site Mount Kinabalu on the tip of Borneo islands. Discuss the biodiversity implications of this.

- Mount Kinabalu is known as the hotbed of biodiversity and recent DNA analysis of this mountain has yielded insights into how its biodiversity evolved

- Researchers found where the species evolved from and when they evolved

- More than ten thousand plants and animals were studied including mites and spiders unique to the mountain, according to lead author M. Schilthuizen, an evolutionary biologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Leiden University in the Netherlands.

- Researchers found that many of the species have average age of only 1.5 million years

- Moreover, the mountain is 6 million years old

- Discovery of most species on Mount Kinabalu as being younger than the mountain itself has negated the conclusion that tropical mountains were refuges of plants and animals which have been around for a very long time

- Table lands in Venezuela were earlier called lost worlds with ancient lineages that had been outcompeted everywhere

- Around two thirds of the species on Mount Kinabalu are descendants from species at lower altitudes that have adapted to cooler conditions

- Rest reside higher on the mountain and originate from spores,seeds and tiny animals transported from further afield by high aerial current

- There is a soup of tiny organisms in the air which is responsible for the colonisation of the islands and high mountains

- As temperature and environment change on a rapid basis, niches for different species change similarly rapidly meaning species may be restricted to certain areas such as mountain summits

- With increase in global warming induced climate change, these species will have less space to move and consequently face extinction

- The results indicate a mix of so-called "centric" organisms that stemmed from nearby populations at lower altitudes, as well as "eccentric" species — particularly in higher subalpine and alpine zones — that are identical to those in similar environments from far-off locations.

- Many mountain adapted species also may have followed evolutionary steps to adapt to their given environment

- New species have evolved without changing their niche too much indicating niche conservatism

- Dispersal dropped species have arrived from similar niches in other locations

- Based on the barcodes they identified at various mountain sites, the researchers saw different types of endemic specie including those that originated far afield, those that resembled species living nearby at lower altitude, so-called centric species, which included flowering plants, conifers, fungi, and a group of stalk-eyed flies, were related to species found in lower, tropical montane forests in Borneo and tended to remain at sites that were relatively low on the mountain.

- The researchers also opine that patterns on Mount Kinabalu represent the sorts of species settlement and mechanisms of endemism also prevalent at young and/or isolated mountains. However, species dispersal and diversification patterns may vary somewhat on mountains within larger ranges such as the Indian Himalayas.

Facts and Stats

Some of the plants and animals unique to this biodiversity system are as follows:

Pitcher plant/Nepenthes x kinabaluensis

- One of the largest pitcher plants in the world

- Grows in parts of the mountain where soil is high on heavy metal and have no soil microorganisms

Stalk-eyed fly/Teleopsis pallifacies

- This is a species that lives along streams, such as the Kemantis waterfall.

Little Flower/Hedyotis macrostegia

- This small shrub belongs to the coffee family and grows at around 2500 metres height and has light seeds carried by air to the mountain. Its closest kin are found in New Giinea

Jumping spider/Myrmarachne malayana

- This spider lives in the mountain and low lands and mimics ants to avoid being killed

- Its large jaws feed on many different types of prey

Tiger Leech/Tritetrabdella kinabaluensis

- It has yellow and brown stripes hence this name

- Its bite is extremely painful

Dendrochilum corrugatum

- Endemic orchid growing as an epiphyte on trees around 2000 m up in Mount Kinabalu

- Evolved around 0.4 million years back
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