In the study, published in the journal PLoS Biology, Penn researchers developed a novel computational approach to infer the dynamics of species diversification using the family trees of present-day species. Using nine patterns of diversification as alternative models, they examined 289 phylogenies, or evolutionary trees, representing amphibians, arthropods, birds, mammals, mollusks and flowering plants.
The study demonstrated that diversity is generally not at equilibrium. Nonetheless, speciation rates have typically decayed over time, suggesting that the diversification of species is somehow constrained, and that equilibrium may eventually be reached.
There are many competing theories for how species diversify and become extinct. Some suggest that species continually accumulate in time, always finding new ecological niches. Other theories suggest that the number of coexisting species is limited and that we will eventually have equilibrium. In other words, a species will be born only when another goes extinct.
The question that intrigued the Penn researchers was whether species diversity on Earth is in equilibrium or is still expanding. They also wondered whether the world has an invisible stop sign on species diversity that would eventually limit the diversity on the planet.
“What we see is diversification rates that are declining but not yet to zero,” said Joshua Plotkin, assistant professor in the Department of Biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Penn. “We are not yet in equilibrium. Either there is a limit to the total species number and we haven’t reached it yet, or there is no such limit. But the rates of diversification are typically falling; when we will hit zero is not yet obvious.”
While it is clear that Earth has recently lost species due to human impact, this study dealt with much longer, geologic time scales. Understanding these long-term dynamics is central to our understanding of what controls present-day biodiversity across groups and regions.
Even though the study did not deal with the current anthropogenic loss of biodiversity, researchers were surprised at how little extinction they actually saw in the evolutionary trees of species. The fossil record shows that many species have gone extinct over geologic time. For example, the diversity of whales has decreased during the last ~12 million years. But extinction was rarely apparent in this analysis of evolutionary trees.
The study also shows how analyzing molecular phylogenies can shed light on patterns of speciation and extinction; future work may reconcile this approach with the fossil record.
“By taking advantage of existing data from the flood of genomic research, we hope to combine efforts with paleontologists gathering fossil data,” Plotkin said.
The study was conducted by Hélène Morlon and Plotkin of the Department of Biology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and Matthew D. Potts of the University of California, Berkeley.
It was funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, James S. McDonnell Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Jordan Reese | EurekAlert!
Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'
23.01.2018 | Rutgers University
Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant
23.01.2018 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)
Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.
Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
23.01.2018 | Life Sciences
23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences
23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy