Short introduction of the project:
The rise to prominence of many modern groups of plants and animals through the Cenozoic era has always proved something of a paradox; why should global biodiversity show such a steep increase just as climates were deteriorating? It is possible that at least part of the answer to this question lies in the regionalisation of biotas, with higher extinction rates towards the poles being balanced, or exceeded, by higher speciation in the tropics. Such a process would in turn be an important mechanism underpinning the formation of polar – equatorial gradients in taxonomic diversity through to the present day.
The PALEOPOLAR project sets out to look at the balance between speciation, extinction and dispersal in both the high- and low-latitude regions at selected time intervals through the Early Cenozoic era. We will concentrate on both polar regions and make comparisons with the lower latitudes using existing archive datasets. Our starting point is the latest Cretaceous (Maastrichtian stage) so that we can plot biological change occurring across high- and low-latitude K-Pg boundary sections. Particular use will be made of a new dataset from Seymour Island, Antarctica which has one of the best-exposed K-Pg sections anywhere in the world. We will plot biotic recovery patterns through the early and mid- Paleocene and link them, where possible, to observed palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic changes. Using the Antarctic stratigraphic sections and hopefully others such as those in West Greenland, we will investigate the response of the polar regions to the PETM and other Early Eocene hyperthermal events.
Our programme will also include molecular phylogenetic investigations of selected polar marine taxa, and GCM modelling of Early Cenozoic climates. By adopting a multidisciplinary approach we hope to throw important new light on how Early Cenozoic biotic and climatic events helped shape some of the major patterns of life on Earth at the present day.