DNA Study Suggests Scorpions Diversified as Andes Formed

Research posts

The formation of the Andes mountain chain gave a powerful boost to South American biodiversity, and new research finds that scorpions were no exception.

A male specimen of Brachistosternus multidentatus, a scorpion found in South America.

A male specimen of Brachistosternus multidentatus, a scorpion found in South America.

© L. Prendini/R. Mercurio


A study published this week in the Journal of Biogeography suggests that the large number of scorpion species present in the genus Brachistosternus is likely due to the unique microclimates that formed as the Andes arose over the last 30 million years.

Brachistosternus sciosciae female

This female Brachistosternus sciosciae scorpion is native to South America.

© L. Prendini/R. Mercurio


“There are more than 50 species of Brachistosternus scorpions, most of which live in or around the Andes, and this high diversity can largely be attributed to the formation of the mountains,” said author Lorenzo Prendini, a curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology. “As the Andes uplifted, new valleys, slopes, and highlands formed, isolating ancestral populations of Brachistosternus and providing new habitats into which they were able to diversify.”

Brachistosternus telteca male UV

A male Brachistosternus telteca scorpion as seen under ultraviolet light.

© L. Prendini/R. Mercurio


The researchers used DNA from more than 120 Brachistosternus specimens to construct a time-tree, which they used to map the emergence of new species to ancestral ranges and biogeographical events. In addition to finding strong evidence that Andean uplift led to diversification, the researchers also came across information that may prove valuable to conservation science.

“Our results demonstrated that for Brachistosternus, as well as for many other desert organisms, the Pacific Coastal Desert of Chile represents an area of high diversity that should be conserved, since it is highly endangered by human activities," said lead author Sara Ceccarelli from the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales.