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Humboldt’s enigma UPSC NOTE

 Introduction to Humboldt's Enigma:

  • Humboldt's enigma is the term given to the relationship between biodiversity and mountains, based on the observations and theories of Alexander von Humboldt.

  • Humboldt suggested a connection between temperature, altitude, humidity, and the occurrence patterns of species, especially on mountains.

Tropical Areas and Biodiversity:

  • Tropical areas receive more solar energy, leading to greater primary productivity and biodiversity.

  • Humboldt's enigma challenges the notion that biodiversity is concentrated only in tropical areas, highlighting mountains as exceptions.

Diversity in Indian Context:

  • India's tropical areas, such as the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot, are expected to be highly diverse.

  • The eastern Himalaya, though outside the tropics, is remarkably diverse, even suggested as the second-most diverse area for perching birds.

Drivers of Biodiversity:

  • The history of the earth, geography, and climate are major drivers of mountain diversity.

  • Geological processes, like uplifts, create new habitats ("cradles") for species to arise, and climatologically stable mountains act as "museums" that accumulate species over time.


Geological Heterogeneity and Biodiversity:

  • Mountains with high geological heterogeneity are more biodiverse.

  • Different geological compositions create unique habitat patches on mountains, promoting species diversification.

Eastern Himalaya and Biodiversity:

  • The eastern Himalaya's biodiversity is influenced by climate dissimilarity, and some bird groups have evolved elsewhere and dispersed to the region.

  • Multiple factors, including geological diversity, contribute to the high biodiversity of the eastern Himalaya.

Unanswered Questions and Research Gaps:

  • The article emphasizes the need for more research and fine data on species occurrences, especially in under-studied areas.

  • Lack of modern tools like genetics contributes to gaps in understanding biodiversity patterns, and more research is essential.


National Programs and Research Initiatives:

  • National programs like the National Mission on Himalayan Studies, National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, and National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Wellbeing aim to address research gaps.

  • Strengthening these programs and supporting basic research on diversity is crucial.

Importance of Studying Backyards:

  • Humboldt's enigma is considered one of many puzzles of mountain biodiversity.

  • Studying local ecosystems, including backyards, can provide insights into global issues of climate and landscape change.

  • In conclusion, Humboldt's enigma challenges traditional views on biodiversity and highlights the importance of mountains, such as the eastern Himalaya, in contributing to global biodiversity patterns. 

  • The passage underscores the need for continued research, especially in underexplored regions, to unravel the complexities of mountain biodiversity.

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