Senckenberg Research

Symposium 2
Symposium 2 (Mon, Oct. 2nd, 17:00-18:30):

Bridging the past and the present: new data, new methods, new insights


Recent years have seen increasing integration across ecology and evolution across spatial and temporal scales, e.g. in molecular ecology research, comparative phylogenetic methods to study the evolution of ecological species traits, or the use of molecular phylogenies in macroecology, biogeography, and phylogeography. Although this research increasingly acknowledges influences of past biological and geological processes, studies often do not explicitly consider paleontological information from the fossil record and geological proxy data or models of past environmental factors. To study the history of life on Earth, paleontologists and paleoecologists have compiled large-scale datasets from the fossil record, together with statistical methods to adjust for possible biases and increasingly sophisticated dating approaches. Geologists who study Earth history itself can now provide detailed topographic and climatic reconstructions for past time periods, using e.g. geochemical isotope analysis, plant fossils or pollen records, as well as complex climate models such as atmospheric general circulation models (GCMs). The next goal is therefore to integrate the different data sources and methods from ecology, evolution, paleontology, and geology. The symposium will give a brief overview of past integrative efforts across these disciplines across different timescales, but will also highlight exciting new avenues for integrative research.



17:00 - 17:20

Recent Advances at the Intersection of Biogeography, Global Change Ecology, and Quaternary Paleoecology:  New Approaches, New Insights
  • John Williams (University of Wisconsin)

Biogeography, global change ecology, and paleoecology are united by interest in the temporal dynamics of ecological systems in a changing world, rapid growth in large-scale community-curated ecological data repositories, and flexible new statistical methods. Here I illustrate these advances with two interconnected efforts, the Neotoma Paleoecology Database and PalEON. Neotoma serves global-change science by providing an open, community-curated, and high-quality paleoecological data resource. Data additions to Neotoma are growing rapidly. PalEON seeks to improve the representation of 'slow' processes in dynamic vegetation models and is drawing together multiple paleodata streams (tree rings, historical vegetation surveys, fossil pollen) and developing Bayesian inferential models. Highlights include demonstrated shifts in tree-climate relationships over the last 200 yrs, the STEPPS pollen-vegetation model, and identification of significant vegetation trends over the last two millennia.


17:20 - 17:40

Integrating the dead and the alive: diversity dynamics and trait evolution in large mammals
  • Susanne Fritz (Senckenberg & Goethe-University Frankfurt)

Spatial patterns of diversity and species’ traits are well-known today, but their dynamics back in time are rarely studied. Although the last few hundred years are often treated as a temporal baseline for understanding patterns of present-day diversity, the fossil record offers much deeper insight into the natural waxing and waning of clades and the evolutionary dynamics of species’ traits. I will outline a conceptual framework for the integration of contemporary and fossil data, and how this integration can allow testing for temporal generality of relationships that are observed today. The rich mammalian fossil record of the Northern Hemisphere during the Neogene (approximately 23-2 million years ago) will be used to illustrate these ideas. For example, I show a consistent mammalian diversity-productivity relationship over the last 20 million years, which has apparently been modified between the start of the Pleistocene and the present day by climatic oscillations and human impacts.


17:40 - 17:55

Changes in Cenozoic Mid-Latitude Primary Productivity and links to Global Climate and Topography
  • Jeremy Caves (ETH Zürich)

We estimate changes in primary productivity in Asia and western North America using Cenozoic paleosol δ13Ccarb. Temporally, δ13Ccarb increases or remains constant; spatially, there is substantial variability. The increase/constancy of δ13Ccarb indicates a decrease in productivity as pCO2 declined, reflecting the influence of reduced CO2 fertilization and an increase in aridity. The spatial variability reflects the role of tectonics in altering regional climate and plant productivity. In western North America, plant productivity declines in areas uplifted by Farallon slab rollback, whereas productivity remains high in foreland and windward basins. In Asia, productivity declines in the Neogene in basins leeward of growing topography in Kazakhstan and Mongolia; thus, the modern juxtaposition of the Gobi, steppe, and taiga in Mongolia is a recent phenomenon. These results are a new method to extract paleo-ecosystem data and understand the coupling between tectonics, climate, and biology.



17:55 - 18:10

Extinction and adaptation of megafaunal-fruited palms under historical global change
  • Renske Onstein (University of Amsterdam)

Extirpations of megafaunal fruit-eating and seed-dispersing mammals (≥ 44 kg) under historical global change may have forced plants with megafaunal fruits (≥ 4 cm) to adapt or go extinct, but these processes have remained unexplored at large spatial and temporal scales. Here, we use a keystone tropical plant family (palms, ca. 2600 species) to study the consequences of Cenozoic global change for the extinction and adaptation of plants with megafaunal fruits. We integrated comprehensive species-level phylogenies with global distributions and fruit sizes for ca. 70% of all palm species to test the fit of macroevolutionary diversification models in a time-window analysis. We demonstrate that dramatic global change during the Quaternary coincides with increasing extinction rates of megafaunal-fruited New World palms, whereas Old World palms show increasing adaptation rates, evolving smaller fruits from megafaunal fruits. Our results imply that megafaunal-fruited plants are disappearing.


18:10 - 18:25

Evolutionary processes, dispersal limitation and climatic history shape current diversity patterns of European dragonflies
  • Stefan Pinkert (Philipps-University Marburg & FH Erfurt)

We tested to what extent patterns of endemism and phylogenetic diversity of European dragonfly assemblages are structured by (i) phylogenetic conservatism of thermal adaptations and (ii) differences in the ability of post-glacial recolonization by species adapted to running waters (lotic) and still waters (lentic). Dragonfly species richness peaked in central Europe, whereas endemism and phylogenetic diversity decreased from warm areas in the south-west to cold areas in the north-east and with an increasing proportion of lentic species. Except for species richness, all measures of diversity were consistently higher in formerly unglaciated areas south of the 0°C isotherm during the Last Glacial Maximum than in formerly glaciated areas. These results indicate that the distributions of dragonfly species in Europe were shaped by both phylogenetic conservatism of thermal adaptations and differences between lentic and lotic species in the ability of post-glacial recolonization/dispersal in concert with the climatic history of the continent.