An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA.
Nature (Impact Factor: 42.35). 02/2008; 451(7176):279-83. DOI: 10.1038/nature06588
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Past episodes of greenhouse warming provide insight into the coupling of climate and the carbon cycle and thus may help to predict the consequences of unabated carbon emissions in the future.

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    ABSTRACT: In disciplines such asmacroevolution that are not amenable to experimentation, scientists usually rely on current observations to test hypotheses about historical events, assuming that “the present is the key to the past.” Biogeographers, for example, used this assumption to reconstruct ancestral ranges from the distribution of extant species. Yet, under scenarios of high extinction rates, the biodiversitywe observe todaymight not be representative of the historical diversity and this could result in incorrect biogeographic reconstructions. Here, we introduce a new approach to incorporate into biogeographic inference the temporal, spatial, and environmental information provided by the fossil record, as a direct evidence of the extinct biodiversity fraction. First, inferences of ancestral ranges for those nodes in the phylogeny calibrated with the fossil record are constrained to include the geographic distribution of the fossil. Second,we use fossil distribution and past climate data to reconstruct the climatic preferences and potential distribution of ancestral lineages over time, and use this information to build a biogeographic model that takes into account “ecological connectivity” through time. To show the power of this approach, we reconstruct the biogeographic history of the large angiosperm genus Hypericum, which has a fossil record extending back to the Early Cenozoic. Unlike previous reconstructions based on extant species distributions, our results reveal that Hypericum stem lineages were already distributed in the Holarctic before diversification of its crown-group, and that the geographic distribution of the genus has been relatively stable throughout the climatic oscillations of the Cenozoic. Geographical movement was mediated by the existence of climatic corridors, like Beringia, whereas the equatorial tropical belt acted as a climatic barrier, preventing Hypericum lineages to reach the southern temperate regions. Our study shows that an integrative approach to historical biogeography—that combines sources of evidence as diverse as paleontology, ecology, and phylogenetics—could help us obtain more accurate reconstructions of ancient evolutionary history. It also reveals the confounding effect different rates of extinction across regions have in biogeography, sometimes leading to ancestral areas being erroneously inferred as recent colonization events.
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