Friday, November 1, 2013
Joel L. Cracraft, Lamont Curator and Chair, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural of History
Understanding how large-scale biotas are assembled over time has received relatively little attention due to both theoretical and empirical complexities in dealing with such systems. Amazonia is Earth's most iconic center of biological diversity and endemism and is arguably the most important terrestrial biome due to its contributions to global systems ecology. Amazonia includes a vast landscape of mostly lowland rainforest found in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela. It harbors the world's highest species diversity, the largest fresh-water ecosystem in the world, and contributes substantially to shaping the Earth's atmospheric gasses and consequently its climate. Despite this global importance, we still have a very incomplete picture of how this biodiversity-rich biome developed.
At large spatial scales the evolution of a region's biotic diversity is linked in complex ways to changes in Earth history (tectonics, climate). We can pose several key questions with respect to Amazonia: When was the current Amazonian landscape, in terms of its hydrological system and terra firme forest, established? How was the current species diversity generated and when? Answers to these questions will require seeing Amazonian environmental history as an integrated whole and will call for a multi-disciplinary approach. This talk will report on current thinking about these questions and describe a large collaborative research effort designed to seek a deeper understanding of Amazonian history.
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