Madrid, 29 years old (Europe Press)
The results have been published in PNAS.
The idea that climate change and geological events can influence evolution isn’t new: anyone who’s heard of dinosaurs knows that a major change in the environment (like a meteorite impact on Earth) 66 million years ago triggered a chain reaction. Storms, earthquakes, hail, and darkness) can determine how animals live, die, and evolve.
But while this is a generally accepted concept, scientists rely on painstakingly accurate data to chart how these kinds of changes affect the evolutionary trajectory of a single species.
Asia is the largest continent in the world and is home to almost all kinds of biomes. “Asia has desert in the north, tropical forests in the south, and temperate forests in the east,” said Anderson Vigo, lead author of the study, a research fellow at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a former researcher. At the Field Museum in Chicago. – My idea was to understand how all these regions are connected and how we end up with different kinds of mammals in different regions. “
“To understand historical events, scientists look for correlations with their time and location, such as when and where species appeared, and what else was going on at the time. They do this work for the entire mammalian fauna of Asia,” explains Bruce Patterson, curator emeritus. From the Field Museum and co-author of the paper.
Asia doesn’t have the largest number of mammal species in the world, nor does it have the largest number of habitat types, but “what makes it special is its affinity,” Patterson said. “It is a crossroads of links with North America, Africa, Europe and Australia.”
The researchers wanted to find out how different mammals moved in and out of Asia over time, as well as how new species evolved, and see if they could link these changes in the diversity of Asian mammals to changes in the geology of Asia. such as the shift of tectonic plates that make up mountains) and climate.
“The big step in this project was building a very good understanding of the mammalian species distribution. This took a long time because I had to review the literature, public databases and museum collections,” Vigo highlights.
Museums such as the Field and National Zoological Museum of China have collections featuring preserved and fossil animal specimens, along with information about where and when the animal was found. They also use family trees that show the relationship between different species to illuminate the big picture of mammalian evolution. By combining both information, Feijó and his colleagues were able to determine where the different species were found over time.
Overall, the researchers found clear links between changes in the Earth’s climate over the past 66 million years and mammals found in different regions of Asia. As the climate warmed and cooled, some species became extinct or moved to new habitats, while others thrived.
Similarly, plate tectonic activity, such as when the Indian subcontinent approached and collided with the rest of Asia, bending the land and forming the Himalayas, played a major role in the movement, extinction, and evolution of mammals.
Researchers have even been able to explore the effects of climate and geology on the evolution of individual species; Feijó gives the example of pikas, which look similar to their close relatives, the rabbits, but have small, rounded ears and are adapted to living at high altitudes with low oxygen levels.
“Pikas arose about 15 million years ago on the Tibetan plateau, and we believe that the formation of this plateau was a major driver of the evolution of this group,” Vigo recalls. Then, from there, they colonized the lowlands of northern Asia and then invaded North America, where they still exist today.
Overall, “this work showed that everything is connected,” Vigo asserts. “We see how many climate changes are happening today, and this work shows that every geological event of climate change has led to diversification, extinction or migration, and we can expect the same thing to happen in the future.
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