frontiers of geobiology

Founding Studies in Geoecodynamics

What criteria qualify a study as a founding contribution to Geoecodynamics? I ague its data have to incorporate molecular clocks into analyses of patterns of genomic variation in a suite of species, which exhibit significant fidelity to a regional landscape. Moreover, the authors must extrapolate from the biotic findings to the solid earth, and resolve events in the respective landscape and/or palaeoenvironment.

The cases I have been able to find in the peer-reviewed literature include reconstructions of drainage evolution using freshwater fishes (Waters et al. 2015 Quaternary Science Reviews 120 47e56, and the inaugural earlier studies by this research group in New Zealand), the evolution of karstic landscapes using obligate cave-dwelling spiders (White et al. 2009 Geology 37, 339e342) and constraining the uplift history of the Andes using the obligate nematode parasite, Globodera pallida, of indigenous potato plants (Picard et al 2008. Earth Planet Science Letters 271, 326–336).

My own research into what has grown into Geoecodynamics began with Lechwe Antelopes (Reduncini, Kobus) in the early 2000s, and has focused on African fishes since 2006. It lead to a detailed study of Africa’s tigerfishes, the predatory, freshwater characiformes of the genus Hydrocynus. (In fact, pilot collecting of tigerfishes began in 2000.) This has developed into a collaborative Pan-African study, not least thanks to the fine work by Sarah Goodier for her MSc under the auspices of the Africa Earth Observatory Network (AEON) when at University of Cape Town. Nearly 300 fishes have been sampled from a total of 23 principal rivers within 15 geographically isolated drainage basins in West, East and Central Africa. These represent a total of 17 African countries: from Mali and The Gambia to Kenya and Ethiopia and south to South Africa and Mozambique.

Geobiotic events recovered in the phylogeographic records of Africa’s Tigerfishes (Genus Hydrocynus) constrain major events in the Neogene rifting of the African Plate. Phylogeographic records of Hydrocynus resolve several drainage rearrangements that in turn constrain rifting events. The genomic record of these biotic indicators not only corroborates the geochronological evidence available, but extends the narrative of Africa’s rifting history to obtain biochronological dates on events lacking any geochronological resolution (Goodier et al. 2011).

Most recently, we used dated phylogenies of the Cape Flora – the noted biodiversity hotspot – to reconstruct the evolution of topography and palaeoclimates of the Cape Fold Belt and its skirting coastal margins through Neogene and Quaternary (Hoffmann et al. 2015 PLoS ONE) – summarized in this Post

A recent exciting example of geoecodynamics is the encyclopedic review of the phylogeography of the marine and terrestrial biodiversity of the San Andreas Fault system by Andrew Gottscho (2014 Biological Reviews DOI: 10.1111/brv.12167). The examples collated in this study demonstrate the remarkable power that can be recovered in the genomic record, which is conferred  as consilient resolution from a wide diversity of independently evolving species. It confirms how the genomic record of Earth history can recover cryptic events in the tectonic history of regional landscapes.

Another fascinating, and recently recognized, study was only pointed out to me by an observant colleague in September this year. It was published in PNAS in 2010. This paper reveals how the evolutionary history of Spiny Frogs reflects the complex events in the tectonics of  SE Asia since the mid-Cenozoic. See my Post Here


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This entry was posted on November 28, 2015 by .
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