Cenozoic palaeogeography and the rise of modern biodiversity patterns
The steepest latitudinal and longitudinal gradients in taxonomic diversity at the present day are those associated with tropical high diversity foci. Although there has been a tendency in the past to regard these features as either evolutionary 'cradles' or 'museums' of considerable antiquity, this may not be the case. Within the marine realm, a uniform, pan-tropical fauna was progressively disrupted by a series of plate tectonic events, the most important of which were the Early Miocene (c. 20 Ma) collisions of Africa/Arabia with Europe and Australia/New Guinea with Indonesia, and the Middle Miocene-latest Pliocene rise of the Central American Isthmus. This had the net effect of establishing two main tropical high diversity foci: the Indo-West Pacific and the Atlantic-Caribbean-East Pacific. Similar foci were also established at the same time in the terrestrial realm.Together with the physical isolation of Antarctica, these same tectonic events contributed significantly to global cooling throughout the Cenozoic Era. This in turn led to the imposition of a series of thermally defined provinces, and thus a considerable degree of biotic differentiation on a regional scale. However, something else seems to have been involved in the creation of very steep tropical diversity peaks. This could in part be a coincidental radiation of a series of unrelated taxa, or some sort of evolutionary feedback mechanism,between interacting clades. Alternatively, Late Cenozoic rates of origination may have been enhanced by an external forcing mechanism such as changes in Orbital Range Dynamics.