“Impacts of niche breadth and dispersal ability on macroevolutionary patterns”

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Huijie Qiao, Erin E. Saupe, Jorge Soberón, A. Townsend Peterson, and Corinne E. Myers

The rate of climate change impacts how species’ ecological traits interact with the environment to generate biodiversity

The Earth has experienced significant environmental changes over its history that have varied in rate and frequency. It remains an important question in biology how these environmental changes have affected the process of evolution. Since changes to global climate are now occurring at extremely fast rates not seen in millions of years, this question is even more relevant for predicting the fate of present-day biodiversity.

In a new article appearing in The American Naturalist, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Dr. H. Qiao), Yale University (Dr. E. E. Saupe), the University of Kansas (Drs. J. Soberón and A. Townsend Peterson), and the University of New Mexico (Dr. C. E. Myers) show that the rate of environmental change may influence how species are ‘born’ by processes called geographic speciation, and die out by extinction.

The authors use computer simulations to investigate how species’ niche breadth and dispersal ability influence speciation and extinction. Moreover, they evaluate how these traits interact with environmental change to shape overall biodiversity. When climate changes quickly, niche breadth is found to have greater effects on speciation and extinction than dispersal ability, but when climate changes slowly, dispersal ability is more important.

The complex interrelationships of environmental change, real-world landscapes, and simple, simulated ‘species’ thus offer a better understanding of the process of biological diversification. Read the Article

Credit: Erin E. Saupe