Biodiversity and Biogeography

N. Adam Smith
Postdoctoral Fellow
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center
Part I: Biodiversity
What is biodiversity?
• “Biodiversity or biological
diversity is the variety of
life in all its forms, levels
and combinations,
– ecosystem diversity,
– species diversity, and
– genetic diversity”
Rio Summit on Biodiversity, 1991)
Copyright (c) 2012 Richard Ling
Genetic Diversity
• The range of genetic
material present in a gene
pool or population of a
• High genetic diversity is
thought to make
populations more
resilient to climate
change, environmental
perturbation, and disease
• Low genetic diversity can
cause many problems…
Low Genetic Diversity in Cheetahs
Cheetahs went through a population
bottleneck at the end of the last ice
age which reduced genetic diversity.
Coupled with intense hunting and slow
population growth, genetic diversity
has not recovered.
Problems facing cheetahs
• Habitat loss and human encroachment
• Competition with other predators and predation
by lions and hyenas in protected areas
• Continued trapping and killing of cheetahs on
farmland (sometimes legally!)
• Low genetic variation leads to:
– Abnormal reproductive traits
– Increased disease susceptibility
– Poor reproductive performance
in captivity
Species diversity
• the variety of species per
unit area
– i.e., the number of
species in your study site
Ecosystem diversity
• The range of different habitats in an
ecosystem, community or biome
associated with the variety of niches that
may be exploited by different species.
What factors lead to biodiversity loss?
• Natural hazards (flooding, volcanic activity,
• Global catastrophe (meteors, climate change)
• Habitat degradation, fragmentation and loss
• Introduction of non-native species, genetically
modified organisms, and monocultures
• pollution
• Hunting, collecting, harvesting
What makes some species more prone
to extinction?
Small population
Specialized habitat
Restricted food source
Low reproductive potential (large mammals)
Accumulation of toxins (whales)
A prominent predator so killed by humans
(e.g., cheetahs)
• Migrates long distances
example: Polar Bears
Large and conspicuous
Population size is shrinking
Food source and warm fur
Huge home range
– Less likely to find mates
• Low reproductive potential
• Top predator
What else makes a species prone to
• Living on an island
– High degree of
– Small populations
– Lower genetic diversity
– Vulnerable to introduced
What else makes a species prone to
• Food for thought – does
something have to be
surrounded by water to
be an island?
– Habitat fragmentation
– Micro-niche partitioning
Measuring extinction
• Measuring extinction is very difficult
• How can you know when an organism is gone?
• First you had to know it was there, then
somebody needs to count it!
– Charismatic megafauna are more likely to be
missed than cryptic microfauna.
Charismatic Megafauna
• Mammals, birds, reptiles are well
• Fish, amphibians, invertebrates,
and even plants are relatively
poorly described
• Extinctions can go unnoticed
– 120 years ago, the Gilbert Islands
(central Pacific) were home to 3
shark species no longer found there
– Evidence from fishing weapons
fashioned from shark’s teeth!
Where is biodiversity the highest?
• Mammal Diversity –
highest in the tropics
• Bat diversity accounts
for a large proportion of
• Latitudinal gradients in
species richness is a
general trend for most
terrestrial plants and
Buckley et al 2010
Biodiversity Hotspots
Species Rich, High Endemism, Threatened
Benefits of Biodiversity
• All of our food comes from other organisms
– Many wild plant species could make important
contributions to human food supplies.
• Rare species provide important medicines
– More than half of all prescription drugs contain
some natural product.
• Biodiversity can support ecosystem stability
• Biodiversity has aesthetic and cultural benefits
• Can generate income through to ecotourism
IUCN Red List
• Attempts to survey and quantify the state of
the planets “at risk” species and governs their
international trade
• Has weaknesses
– probably underestimates the problems
– Some taxa much better surveyed than others
(mammals vs arthropods)
Part II: Biogeography
Subjects Used in Biogeography
Developmental Biology
Persistent Questions in Biogeography
• What enables a species to live where it does,
and what prevents it from colonizing other
• What are a species closest relatives and
where can they be found? Where did its
ancestors live?
• How have historical events shaped a
species’ distribution?
Persistent Themes in Biogeography
• Classifying geographic regions based on their
• Reconstructing historical development or lineages
and biota, including their origin, spread, and
• Explaining differences in numbers and types of
species among geographic areas, and along
geographic gradients
Alfred Russel Wallace
“The Man Who Knew Islands”
Malay Archipelago
Figure 9.4
In 1857 Wallace wrote:
“A consideration of the
birds had led us at some
length into this
subject,…how the existing
distribution of species has
arisen, or strictly connect it
with those changes of
surface which all countries
have undergone.”
Aru Islands
What Wallace was trying to say
1. Variation occurs in nature
2. Variation may result in different
reproductive success.
3. Species (populations) with higher
fitness will persist
4. This leads to divergence from
ancestral species.
Islands can serve as a laboratory for the study of
biogeography. The biota of an island is simpler than that of
a continental area, and the interactions are easier to
Some flying animals,
such as birds and bats,
are capable of reaching
even very distant
Some plants have developed seeds or
fruits that can be carried in the sea
without being harmed.
Island life is probably more hazardous than that
on the mainland. For one thing, catastrophic
events have more severe effects. There is
typically no place to hide.
Also, when a species is lost by extinction, it is
more difficult to replace it through
immigration than in a mainland situation.
For this reason, islands tend to support fewer
species than mainland areas of similar size
(i.e., lower species diversity).
Rules of Island Biogeography
• Islands closer to a land mass have a higher
probability of colonization
• Older islands are more likely to be colonized
• Larger islands should have more species
• Geographic isolation reduces gene flow
between populations
• Over time, colonial populations diverge due to
selection, mutation, and/or drift
Island Biogeography: Madagascar
• 4th largest island in
the world
• separated from India
• High endemism due
to isolation
• A biodiversity
Island Biogeography: Madagascar
• 4th largest island in the
• separated from India
• High endemism due to
• A biodiversity hotspot
• Lemurs
– ~100 extant species
– Colonized Madagascar
from Africa 62-65mya
Lemur Distributions – a function of
hydrology or microclimate?
• Pearson & Raxworthy
• Do species
boundaries in lemurs
correspond better
with watershed
boundaries or with
climatic differences?
Lemur Distributions – a function of
hydrology or microclimate?
• Pearson & Raxworthy
• Do species
boundaries in lemurs
correspond better
with watershed
boundaries or with
climatic differences?
• Found BOTH were

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