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Integrating Geology and Genetics to Investigate the Evolution of Biodiversity in the Amazon and Andean Forests

The forests of tropical South America host some of the highest biodiversity on Earth. In this project, funded by a 5-year award from the NSF Frontiers in Earth Systems Dynamics program, an interdisciplinary team of geologists, climatologists, and biologists are taking advantage of recent advances in their respective disciplines to develop an integrated understanding of how climate and geology interact to shape the distribution and generation of biodiversity in the Amazon/Andean forests through time. By deciphering how environment affects biodiversity and, conversely, how genetic sequences of plant species encode the history of the physical environment, it is envisioned that molecular phylogenetics will inform geological history, much like paleontology informs stratigraphic and paleoenvironmental interpretation, and the new field of “geo-genomics” will emerge.

With funding from the NSF Frontiers in Earth Systems Dynamics (FESD) program, our research team is carrying out new detailed field and laboratory investigations of key aspects of the components of the linked Andes-Amazon system, emphasizing:

  1. Cenozoic Uplift History of the Tropical Andes
  2. Cenozoic Paleoclimate and Landscape Evolution in the Western Amazon Lowlands
  3. Cenozoic Climate Dynamics via isotope-enabled ocean-atmosphere climate modeling of key time slices
  4. Molecular Genetics of Woody Plant Taxa, carefully chosen to test several fundamental hypotheses about the role of uplift and climate in the generation of diversity

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