A "live fast, die young" life history strategy could have been a key factor behind today's high tree diversity in the Amazon, scientists have suggested. The researchers hope the findings will shed light on why some groups of trees in the biodiversity hotspot contain hundreds of species.
An estimated 16,000 tree species - about 30% of the recorded total worldwide - are found in the Amazon. "One of the big questions about understanding the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest is why have we got a range of groups of trees that contain so many species," explained co-author Tim Baker from the University of Leeds.
Studies have estimated that the Amazon Basin is home to 390 billion trees. "There are genera - or groups - that are very species rich; some of them have 100, 200 or 300 species in them but we have not had a good reason for why these species-rich genera exist."
The international team of scientists said the diversity was a result of "an interaction between extrinsic factors - historical events that have caused extinctions or provided opportunities for speciation - and the intrinsic characteristics of different lineages that have influenced how they responded to these events".
Dr Baker told BBC News that the breakthrough came when the team found a characteristic that was shared by all of the groups. "They all seem to share a life history strategy where they live fast and die young. They have short generation times so they are able to pump through the generations very fast," he said.