Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Why are some groups of animals so diverse?

21.09.2007
Cornell researchers take a look at Australia's most diverse vertebrates: skinks

A new study of finger-sized Australian lizards sheds light on one of the most striking yet largely unexplained patterns in nature: why is it that some groups of animals have evolved into hundreds, even thousands of species, while other groups include only a few?

The study takes a look at Australia’s most diverse group of vertebrates—more than 252 species of lizards called skinks. Researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have found evidence that the “drying up” of Australia over the past 20 million years triggered this explosive diversification. The results were published in the September 19 online edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Lead author Dan Rabosky, a Cornell graduate student, spent many months in the remote Australian outback, trapping skinks as they skittered from one prickly clump of grass to another. By documenting where the various skink species occur and using their DNA to define their evolutionary tree, he found that the groups with the most species are the ones that live in the driest parts of Australia. “There’s something about colonizing the desert that caused these skinks to diversify at an incredibly high rate,” says Rabosky.

An unusual finding of this study is that these skinks upend the usual pattern of species diversity found in other parts of the world. “We typically think of lush tropical rainforests as being the world’s major centers of diversity,” says coauthor Irby Lovette, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program. “With the skinks, just the opposite has happened: the rainforest skinks in Australia have much lower diversity, and a lot of the evolutionary ‘action’ in this system is taking place in the deserts.”

Over the last 20 million years, most of Australia changed from humid and tropical to bone-dry desert. “Living in the desert is stressful for animals that are adapted for wetter habitats,” says Rabosky. “But somewhere in the distant past, a few skinks developed the ability to survive in their increasingly arid world.” It is the descendents of these few early desert colonists that evolved into amazingly large numbers of skink species.

“Australian skinks are really fascinating,” Rabosky says. “Two groups in particular have gone evolutionarily crazy, each splitting into as many as 100 different species. In contrast to skinks on other continents, and even some other groups in Australia, the diversity of these particular groups has really exploded.”

Rabosky’s study included skinks with spots, skinks with stripes, skinks with four legs, or two—or none. Rabosky says there are at least 252 species of these lizards living Down Under, and probably many more that remain to be discovered.

The evolution of these skinks mirrors that of many groups of organisms—from grasses, to beetles, to humans and our relatives—in which some groups have spectacular diversity and others a paucity of species. “For me as a scientist,” says Rabosky, “one of the great things about skinks is that there are just so darn many species, making the patterns in their diversity really clear.”

Miyoko Chu | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cornell.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

Im Focus: Autonomous 3D scanner supports individual manufacturing processes

Let’s say the armrest is broken in your vintage car. As things stand, you would need a lot of luck and persistence to find the right spare part. But in the world of Industrie 4.0 and production with batch sizes of one, you can simply scan the armrest and print it out. This is made possible by the first ever 3D scanner capable of working autonomously and in real time. The autonomous scanning system will be on display at the Hannover Messe Preview on February 6 and at the Hannover Messe proper from April 23 to 27, 2018 (Hall 6, Booth A30).

Part of the charm of vintage cars is that they stopped making them long ago, so it is special when you do see one out on the roads. If something breaks or...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fingerprints of quantum entanglement

16.02.2018 | Information Technology

'Living bandages': NUST MISIS scientists develop biocompatible anti-burn nanofibers

16.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Hubble sees Neptune's mysterious shrinking storm

16.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>