Navigation Links
Penn biologists say species accumulate on Earth at slower rates than in the past

PHILADELPHIA - Computational biologists at the University of Pennsylvania say that species are still accumulating on Earth but at a slower rate than in the past.

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.


Contact: Jordan Reese
University of Pennsylvania

Related biology news :

1. Caltech biologists spy on the secret inner life of a cell
2. Biologists, educators recognize excellence in evolution education
3. Caltech geobiologists discover unique magnetic death star fossil
4. Biologists discover gene behind plant sex mystery
5. Queens University biologists find new environmental threat in North American lakes
6. Biologists learn structure, mechanism of powerful molecular motor in virus
7. Biologists discover link between CGG repeats in DNA and neurological disorders
8. Biologists solve mystery of black wolves
9. Cleaning up oil spills can kill more fish than spills themselves, say Queens biologists
10. Plant biologists discover gene that switches on essence of male
11. Two innovative University of Texas at Austin biologists become HHMI Early Career Scientists
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/26/2015)... India , October 26, 2015 ... --> adds ... 2015 to 2021 as well as ... 2015-2019 research reports to its collection ... . --> ...
(Date:10/23/2015)... Research and Markets ( ) has ... Biometrics Market 2015-2019" report to their offering. ... global voice recognition biometrics market to grow at a ... --> --> The report, Global Voice ... an in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts. ...
(Date:10/22/2015)... (NASDAQ: SYNA ), a leading developer of human interface solutions, ... 2015. --> --> Net ... over the comparable quarter last year to $470.0 million. Net income ... $0.62 per diluted share. --> ... 2016 grew 39 percent over the prior year period to $56.9 ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... -- Studies reveal the differences in species ... the way for more effective treatment for one of the ... --> --> Gum disease ... cats, yet relatively little was understood about the bacteria associated ... conducted by researchers from the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... , ... November 25, 2015 , ... ... the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OPBAP) has been formalized with the signing ... AMA team leaders met with OPBAP leaders Capt. Karl Minter and Capt. Albert ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015  Asia-Pacific (APAC) ... research organisation (CRO) market. The trend of outsourcing ... lower margins but higher volume share for the ... and scale, however, margins in the CRO industry ... (CRO) Market ( ), finds that ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... VANCOUVER , Nov. 24, 2015 /CNW/ - iCo ... ICOTF), today reported financial results for the quarter ... are expressed in Canadian dollars and presented under ... the United States ," said Andrew ... "These advancements regarding iCo-008 are not only value ...
Breaking Biology Technology: