Amazonia: Reconstructing the history of Earth's most diverse biota

Joel Cracraft
Lamont Curator and Chair, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural of History

2323rd Meeting Abstract
Friday, November 1 2013 8:15 PM


Understanding how large-scale biotas are assembled over time has received relatively little attention due to both theoretical and empirical complexities in dealing with such systems. Amazonia is Earth's most iconic center of biological diversity and endemism and is arguably the most important terrestrial biome due to its contributions to global systems ecology. Amazonia includes a vast landscape of mostly lowland rainforest found in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela. It harbors the world's highest species diversity, the largest fresh-water ecosystem in the world, and contributes substantially to shaping the Earth's atmospheric gasses and consequently its climate. Despite this global importance, we still have a very incomplete picture of how this biodiversity-rich biome developed.

At large spatial scales the evolution of a region's biotic diversity is linked in complex ways to changes in Earth history (tectonics, climate). We can pose several key questions with respect to Amazonia: When was the current Amazonian landscape, in terms of its hydrological system and terra firme forest, established? How was the current species diversity generated and when? Answers to these questions will require seeing Amazonian environmental history as an integrated whole and will call for a multi-disciplinary approach. This talk will report on current thinking about these questions and describe a large collaborative research effort designed to seek a deeper understanding of Amazonian history.

About the Author:

Joel Cracraft

Joel Cracraft is Lamont Curator and Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History. He received his B.S. (Zoology) from the University of Oklahoma, M.S. (Zoology) from Louisiana State University, and his Ph.D. (Biology) from Columbia University in 1969. His research interests are in systematic biology, biological diversification, and biogeography. Much of his current research focuses on the higher level systematics of birds and the radiation of the large Australian endemic avifauna, including birds-of-paradise, using both molecular sequence and morphological data. He has written or edited books on phylogenetic systematics (1979, 1980), phylogenetic analysis of molecular data (1991), the biodiversity crisis (2000), the Tree of Life (2004), and the teaching of evolution (2005), in addition to over 180 scientific papers. He is a recipient of the Elliott Coues Award from the American Ornithologists' Union, and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a member of multiple professional societies and has held office or served on the board of many of them, including being President of the Society of Systematic Biologists and President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (2004).

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