Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ice age extinction shaped Australian plant diversity

Date:
February 13, 2013
Source:
University of Melbourne
Summary:
Researchers have shown that part of Australia's rich plant diversity was wiped out by the ice ages, demonstrating that extinction, probably more than evolution, influences biodiversity.

Forest in Australia.
Credit: p a w e l / Fotolia

Researchers have shown that part of Australia's rich plant diversity was wiped out by the ice ages, demonstrating that extinction, probably more than evolution, influences biodiversity.

Related Articles


The research led by the University of Melbourne and University of Tasmania has shown that plant diversity in South East Australia was as rich as some of the most diverse places in the world, and that most of these species went extinct during the ice ages, probably about one million years ago.

The team's work was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr Sniderman of the University of Melbourne's School of Earth Sciences said the findings show extinction is just as important to diversity of organisms as evolution.

"Traditionally scientists believed some places have more species than others because species evolved more rapidly in these places. We have overthrown this theory, which emphasizes evolution, by showing that extinction may be more important, " he said.

The study compared two regions of Southern Australia and South Africa.

"South-western Australia has a huge diversity of tough-leaved shrubs and trees such as eucalypts, Banksia, Grevilleas and Acacias, making it one of the most biodiverse places on Earth," Dr Sniderman said.

"The southern tip of South Africa is even richer, with astonishing numbers of similar kinds of plants like proteas and ericas."

Scientists have long maintained that this diversity is somehow related to the poor soils and dry summers of these places.

For the study researchers analysed plant fossils that accumulated in an ancient lake in South Eastern Australia. They found the region had at least as many tough-leaved plants 1.5 million years ago as Western Australia and South Africa do today.

The results were entirely unexpected.

"As Australia dried out over the past several million years, rainforest plants largely disappeared from most of the continent," said Dr Sniderman

"It has been thought that this drying trend allowed Australia's characteristic tough-leaved plants to expand and became more diverse. We have shown that the climate variability of the ice ages not only drove rainforest plants to extinction but also a remarkable number of tough-leaved, shrubby plants," he said. Dr Greg Jordan of the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Tasmanian said not only has the study overturned current thought on the role of extinction in plant diversity, it has implications for understanding how Australian plant diversity will deal with current and future climate change.

"The species that went extinct in SE Australia during the ice ages were likely to be the ones most sensitive to rapid climate change, meaning that the species that now grow in eastern Australia may be more capable of tolerating rapid changes than predicted by current science," he said.

"However, the species in hotspots of diversity like Western Australia may be much more sensitive to future climate change, because they have been protected from past climate changes."

The study was done in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Melbourne. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. M. K. Sniderman, G. J. Jordan, R. M. Cowling. Fossil evidence for a hyperdiverse sclerophyll flora under a non-Mediterranean-type climate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1216747110

Cite This Page:

University of Melbourne. "Ice age extinction shaped Australian plant diversity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213105017.htm>.
University of Melbourne. (2013, February 13). Ice age extinction shaped Australian plant diversity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213105017.htm
University of Melbourne. "Ice age extinction shaped Australian plant diversity." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130213105017.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Brawling Pandas Are Violently Adorable

Brawling Pandas Are Violently Adorable

Buzz60 (Jan. 29, 2015) Video of pandas play fighting at the Chengdu Research Base in China will make your day. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) shows us. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) Biofuels aren&apos;t the best alternative to fossil fuels, according to a new report. In fact, they&apos;re quite a bad one. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
3-D Printed Wheelchair Helps Two-Legged Dog Learn to Run

3-D Printed Wheelchair Helps Two-Legged Dog Learn to Run

Buzz60 (Jan. 29, 2015) 3-D printing helps another two-legged dog run around with his four-legged friends. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) has the adorable video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dogs Bring on So Many Different Emotions in Their Human Best Friends

Dogs Bring on So Many Different Emotions in Their Human Best Friends

RightThisMinute (Jan. 28, 2015) From new-puppy happy tears to helpful-grocery-carrying-dog laughter, our four-legged best friends can make us feel the entire spectrum of emotions. Video provided by RightThisMinute
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins