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CSDMS 2024 Webinars

Landscape dynamics dictate the evolution of biodiversity on Earth

Earth’s surface is the living skin of our planet – it connects physical, chemical, & biological systems. Over geological time, this surface evolves with rivers fragmenting the landscape into environmentally diverse range of habitats. These rivers not only carve canyons & form valleys, but also serve as the main conveyors of sediment & nutrients from mountains to continental plains & oceans. Here we hypothesise that it is not just geodynamics or climate, but their interaction, which, by regulating topography and sedimentary flows, determines long-term evolution of biodiversity. As such, we propose that surface processes are a prime limiting factor of diversification of Life on Earth before any form of intrinsic biotic process.

To test this hypothesis, we use reconstructions of ancient climates & plate tectonics to simulate the evolution of landscape & sedimentary history over the entire Phanerozoic era, a period of 540 million years. We then compare these results with reconstructions of marine & continental biodiversity over geological times. Our findings suggest that biodiversity is strongly influenced by landscape dynamics, which at any given moment determine the carrying capacity of continental & oceanic domains, i.e., the maximum number of different species they can support at any given time.

In the oceans, diversity closely correlates with the sedimentary flow from the continents, providing the necessary nutrients for primary production. Episodes of mass extinctions in the oceans have occurred shortly after a significant decrease in sedimentary flow, suggesting that a nutrient deficit destabilizes biodiversity & makes it particularly vulnerable to catastrophic events.

On the continents, it took the gradual coverage of the surface with sedimentary basins for plants to develop & diversify, thanks to the development of more elaborate root systems. This slow expansion of terrestrial flora was further stimulated during tectonic episodes.

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Of interest for:
  • Marine Working Group
  • Terrestrial Working Group
  • Coastal Working Group
  • Education and Knowledge Transfer (EKT) Working Group
  • Cyberinformatics and Numerics Working Group
  • Hydrology Focus Research Group
  • Chesapeake Focus Research Group
  • Critical Zone Focus Research Group
  • Human Dimensions Focus Research Group
  • Geodynamics Focus Research Group
  • Ecosystem Dynamics Focus Research Group
  • Coastal Vulnerability Initiative
  • Continental Margin Initiative
  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Initiative
  • Modeling Platform Interoperability Initiative
  • River Network Modeling Initiative