Early Cenozoic evolution of the latitudinal diversity gradient
We are beginning to appreciate that the huge radiations of both marine and terrestrial taxa in the aftermath of the K/Pg mass extinction event were concentrated largely, but not exclusively, in the low-latitude and tropical regions. This in turn means that significant latitudinal diversity gradients were developed well before the onset of global cooling at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary. Net rates of evolutionary radiations were significantly higher through the Early Paleocene – Middle Eocene interval (i.e. ~62–42 Ma) in the tropics than at the poles but this may be due as much to their retardation in the latter regions as to their acceleration in the former. At least in the marine realm, polar assemblages are characterised by the phenomenon of high dominance/low evenness, and it is thought likely that this is due to the extreme seasonality of primary production at the base of the food chain. Many modern polar marine organisms are de facto trophic generalists and occupy significantly broader ecological niches than their tropical counterparts. Although we cannot dismiss the roles of both temperature and area in promoting tropical diversity, it could well be that LDGs are just as much the product of a latitudinal gradient in the seasonality of primary productivity. Such a gradient would have operated in both greenhouse and icehouse worlds.
Authors: Crame, J. Alistair ORCID record for J. Alistair Crame