Wednesday, October 31, 2012

SVP Highlights: Biodiversity Hotspots

Hello, blog world! NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, so today I begin my recap posts from the 72nd Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting. (Fingers crossed that I've correctly read all their fine print about what I'm allowed to post about.) Without further ado, I present to you the first of a series of brief SVP highlights that I'll post throughout the month as I work on my NaNoWriMo novel. Here we go!

Biodiversity Hotspots: Centers of Evolution?

Biodiversity hotspots are where oodles of animals live—levels of variety seen nowhere else on Earth. There are hotspots of biodiversity in the world today, such as the rainforests of Indonesia and the Amazon. Likely, there were hotspots in the past as well.

Around 150-100 million years ago, it seems there was such a hotspot actually fairly close to the modern day Amazon. It was located in what is now Columbia and it is the focal point of this blog post.

In Hans Larsson’s SVP talk on October 17th, 2012, he proposed that hotspots of biodiversity are actually the cradles of evolution. They might be where most new species originate. This makes a certain amount of sense: the more species already there, the more likely different morphs will turn up and speciate into new lineages. 

To test this, Larsson looked at the fossil record of Columbia during its hotspot time. He found tons of fossils and huge diversity among the remains, solidifying the idea that this area was a hotspot. Beyond this, he also found that this fossil locality happens to be where the earliest members of many animal lineages are found (including possibly the earliest true sea turtle!). 

So is this evidence that hotspots are also the places where evolution tends to leap forward? Possibly. Personally, I think it’s a really cool idea, but it needs to be tested further. We need to make sure there isn’t another reason they’re finding the earliest members of modern lineages in that area. Could it be that these early sea turtles, for instance, could actually be found many other, non-hotspot places that just didn’t end up preserving in the fossil record? I don't know the answer to that, but I'm certain qualified people are looking into this. Probably even Hans Larsson himself. After all, this is a question that the fossil record can answer better than any study of modern living things.


Larsson H. "THE CRETACEOUS NEOTROPICS: COLOMBIAN VERTEBRATES AT THE BOUNDARY OF SHIFTING ENVIRONMENTS AND THE MESOZOIC MARINE INTERCHANGE". Talk. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 72nd Annual Meeting. Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh, North Carolina. 17 October 2012.

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Program and Abstracts, 2012, p. 8.

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