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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Research project: Identifying the regulating factors of biodiversity in deep time

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Is the world full of species?

Is the world full of species?  The intuition of a finite limit to the number of species that can co‐exist on Earth appeals because Earth itself is a finite object. If this limit exists, then which environmental, ecological and biological processes determine it? Population biologists call such a limit the "carrying capacity". The chief regulating factor is purported to be a density-dependent skeleton: as density goes up then population growth goes down because of resource limitation. Around the deterministic pattern, environmental noise generates short‐term fluctuations. The co‐option of such ecological theory into palaeobiology has a long history but simple re‐interpretation of elementary ecology is compromised by large scale, long‐term environmental and ecological change. In the fossil record, the density‐dependence is not a deterministic skeleton because any "taxonomic carrying capacity" is not fixed.

Here, we propose to identify and investigate the underlying mechanisms that drive changes in biodiversity. To do this, we will integrate the historical information captured by molecular phylogenies and the fossil record and ally this information with rigorous palaeoclimatic reconstructions cast in an ecologically relevant framework. The two workshops will ensure a coherence of approach with contributions from ecologists, evolutionary biologists, paleobiologists and paleoclimatologists.

Funding: University of Southampton/The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).  Runs until September 2016.

Related research groups

Environmental Biosciences
Palaeoceanography and Palaeoclimate
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