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!
How cells hack their own genes
24.08.2017 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
What the world's tiniest 'monster truck' reveals
23.08.2017 | American Chemical Society
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
24.08.2017 | Medical Engineering
24.08.2017 | Earth Sciences
24.08.2017 | Earth Sciences