Life Sciences Seminar
Inferring the diversification of land plants at and in the shadow of the Roof of the World
Plants, Dept. of Life Sciences, NHM
Wednesday 12 of December 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)
Orogenic events in earth history, e.g. mountain formation, have made a profound impact on the assembly of biological diversity. For example, recent studies of the biodiversity of South America recovered strong evidence that the Cenozoic rise of the Andeans triggered the rapid diversification of many lineages of vascular plants.
However, relatively little attention has been given to the effect of the rise of the Himalaya on plant diversity. The rise of this mountain chains were triggered by the collision of the Indian tectonic plate with the Eurasian continent 70 million years ago but major uplifts date back to more recent times. Especially the rather recent formation of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, around 3-4 million years ago, had a considerable impact on the monsoon climates in South East Asia. Thus the rise of this plateau affected not only the evolution of plants adapted to the alpine conditions at the high altitudes of the Himalaya but also the expansion of xeric habitats in central Asia and the enhanced monsoons affecting South East Asia and South Asia.
The hypothesis of the impact of the rise of the Himalaya on plant diversity in South East Asia is studied employing mainly phylogenetic approaches that incorporate divergence time estimates, ancestral area reconstruction, inference of niche evolution, and estimates of diversification rates. The analyses also incorporate evidence from micro-paleontological research.
Comparative assessment of the existing and newly generated phylogenetic hypotheses for a wide range of angiosperms and ferns recovered evidence supporting the hypothesis of a substantial impact of the rise of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau on the assembly of lineage diversity. This result is consistent with palaeoclimate reconstructions that are based on pollen and spore record. In comparison, the recovered patterns indicate the involvement of different processes in response to the Cenozoic mountain formations in South America and South East Asia.
The presentation summarises research that was carried out during my time as a senior visiting professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Besides the presentation of the results of the research, I will also touch on issues related to the current research conditions in China.
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