Cenozoic palaeogeography and the rise of modern biodiversity patterns
J. A. Crame, B. R. Rosen, 2002. "Cenozoic palaeogeography and the rise of modern biodiversity patterns", Palaeobiogeography and Biodiversity Change: the Ordovician and Mesozoic–Cenozoic Radiations, J. A. Crame, A. W. Owen
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The steepest latitudinal and longitudinal gradients in taxonomic diversity at the present day are those associated with tropical high diversity foci. Although there has been a tendency in the past to regard these features as either evolutionary ‘cradles’ or ‘museums’ of considerable antiquity, this may not be the case. Within the marine realm, a uniform, pan-tropical fauna was progressively disrupted by a series of plate tectonic events, the most important of which were the Early Miocene (c. 20 Ma) collisions of Africa/Arabia with Europe and Australia/New Guinea with Indonesia, and the Middle Miocene-latest Pliocene rise of the Central American Isthmus. This had the net effect of establishing two main tropical high diversity foci: the Indo-West Pacific and the Atlantic-Caribbean-East Pacific. Similar foci were also established at the same time in the terrestrial realm.
Together with the physical isolation of Antarctica, these same tectonic events contributed significantly to global cooling throughout the Cenozoic Era. This in turn led to the imposition of a series of thermally defined provinces, and thus a considerable degree of bio tic differentiation on a regional scale. However, something else seems to have been involved in the creation of very steep tropical diversity peaks. This could in part be a coincidental radiation of a series of unrelated taxa, or some sort of evolutionary feedback mechanism between interacting clades. Alternatively, Late Cenozoic rates of origination may have been enhanced by an external forcing mechanism such as changes in Orbital Range Dynamics.
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The study of biodiversity through geological time provides important information for the understanding of diversity patterns at the present day. Hitherto, much effort has been paid to studying the mass extinctions of the Phanerozoic but the research emphasis has now changed to focus on what occurred between these spectacular catastrophic events. After the Cambrian ‘explosion’ of marine organisms with readily preservable skeletons, there have been two intervals when life radiated dramatically — the Ordovician Period, and the mid-Mesozoic-Cenozoic eras. These intervals saw a fundamental reorganization of biodiversity on a hierarchy of biogeographical scales. The size of these diversity increases and their probable causes are topics of intense debate, and there is an intriguing link between the dispersal of continents, changing climates and the proliferation of life.
The papers in this volume are written by palaeontologists, biogeographers and geologists addressing the highly topical field of palaeobiodiversity in the context of the Earth’s changing geography. Palaeobiogeography and Biodiversity Change: the Ordovician and Mesozoic-Cenozoic Radiations illustrates many aspects of the two great episodes of biotic radiation and shows how long periods of time and plate tectonic movements have a fundamental influence on the generation and maintenance of major extant biodiversity patterns.
The volume will be of interest to professional palaeontologists, biologists and geologists, as well as to students in earth and biological sciences.