Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Geological game changer


New study shakes up understanding of when continents connected

A long-standing fact widely accepted among the scientific community has been recently refuted, which now has major implications on our understanding of how Earth has evolved.

One of the cichlid fish from Guatemala, Thorichthys meeki, collected by LSU Curator of Ichthyology Prosanta Chakrabarty for the study that refuted the date in which the Isthmus of Panama was formed.

Courtesy of Prosanta Chakrabarty, LSU

Until recently, most geologists had determined the land connecting North and South America, the Isthmus of Panama, had formed 3.5 million years ago. But new data shows that this geological event, which dramatically changed the world, occurred much earlier. In a comprehensive biological study, researchers have confirmed this new information by showing that plants and animals had been migrating between the continents nearly 30 million years earlier.

'This means the best-dated geological event we ever had is wrong,' said Prosanta Chakrabarty, LSU associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Curator of Ichthyology at the LSU Museum of Natural Science. His research on the evolution of freshwater and marine organisms in Central America was part of the study with colleagues at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, American Museum of Natural History and the University of Gothenburg, which included living and extinct mammals, birds, plants, fish and invertebrate animals published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers found large pulses of movement among these plants and animals between North and South America from 41 million, 23 million and eight million years ago. These coordinated spikes in migration imply that geological changes in Central America, such as landmass formation and new freshwater corridors, were aiding migration for many kinds of plants and animals.

'Before, South America was thought of as an island with no communication until 3.5 million years, so the only way to explain such high biodiversity was to say that it accumulated extremely fast. Now, with a longer history, we know that processes and patterns took a lot of time to form,' said Christine Bacon, lead author of the study and associate researcher at the University of Gothenburg. 'Our results change our understanding of the biodiversity and climate, both at the regional and global levels.'

Even after the reported geological closure, geminate marine species, those close relatives found on opposite sides of the narrow isthmus, also provide evidence that this landmass between North and South America is more like a sponge where organisms can periodically pass rather than a solid barrier. The current expansion of the Panama Canal has yielded new fossils that have informed these observations.

'Now we know that the closure of the Isthmus of Panama, which is supposed to be one of the biggest deals in geology, is just one part of a really complicated puzzle of how the continents came together,' Chakrabarty said.

He and colleagues at LSU mapped the evolution of two major families of fishes in Central America -- cichlids, which include many aquarium fish, and poeciliids, which include guppies and swordtails. They collected samples of fishes from every country in Central America and sequenced the DNA to determine the genetic relationship between species. Matching the skeletal structure of fish found in the fossil record, they calibrated the DNA-based evolutionary tree and determined the age of each species.

Because freshwater fish can only migrate when a new passage way opens to a river or lake, there must have been dry land with freshwater running through it, Chakrabarty said. Therefore, their arrival in Central America signifies early geological changes.

'The cool thing is there are so many freshwater fish species that are essentially stuck in one place until the land changes, so they can tell us about the history of the Earth,' he said.

The formation of the Isthmus of Panama had large-scale effects on the planet. It divided the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, thus changing sea levels and ocean currents. This affected global temperatures possibly causing periods of glaciation.

'The geology of this whole region is so complicated, and it's amazing to me that the biology can inform us of that,' he said.

Chakrabarty has been conducting research on Central American freshwater fish for about 15 years. He has received more than $1 million in National Science Foundation funding for this work. He and his lab have collected fish species from every country in Central America and have expanded the specimen collection at LSU to South America, the Greater Antilles and much of Asia. He is currently researching the evolution and migration of freshwater fish between South America, Central America and the Greater Antilles that may have began 50 to 60 million years ago.

Media Contact

Alison Satake


Alison Satake | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Gothenburg LSU Louisiana animals fish species freshwater freshwater fish species

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'
16.03.2018 | Emory Health Sciences

nachricht Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
16.03.2018 | Rockefeller University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>