Topographically complex areas hold much of Earth’s biodiversity
Topographically complex regions, such as mountain ranges, contain many of the world’s diversity hotspots today, and harbor a high proportion of species vulnerable to extinction. Thus, these regions have high conservation value, especially in light of habitat conversion and climate change.
Professor Catherine Badgley, her former student and second author Tara Smiley (U-M EARTH Ph.D. 2016), and coauthors consider the past (prehistoric), present and future of biodiversity and topographic complexity in the March 2017 cover story in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Biodiversity and Topographic Complexity: Modern and Geohistorical Perspectives.
Badgley is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Residential College, and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, as well as a research scientist with the Museum of Paleontology, Badgley and coauthors developed models to test hypotheses about the historical processes that led to high diversity in topographically complex regions.
“Both fossil and modern data are crucial for reconstructing diversification history and identifying processes that generate diversity, since neither data set in isolation can fully reveal both pattern and process,” the review paper states.
“Understanding the ecological and evolutionary drivers of diversity gradients in different landscapes can help guide conservation strategies,” according to the paper. “Predicted warming is high for montane regions over the next 100 years and will lead to loss of high-elevation climates, habitats, and species. By identifying where turnover occurred when climates changed in the past, the record of past diversity and landscape history can reveal climatic gradients where species were prone to move and thereby identify these landscapes as conservation targets for the future. Together, neontological (the study of living, or recent, organisms) and paleontological (science concerned with fossil animals and plants) analyses can also reveal individual species that are most vulnerable to environmental change based on their ecological traits.”