Evolutionary dynamics at high latitudes: speciation and extinction in polar marine faunas
Ecologists have long been fascinated by the flora and fauna of extreme environments. Physiological studies have revealed the extent to which lifestyle is constrained by low temperature but there is as yet no consensus on why the diversity of polar assemblages is so much lower than many tropical assemblages. The evolution of marine faunas at high latitudes has been influenced strongly by oceanic cooling during the Cenozoic and the associated onset of continental glaciations. Glaciation eradicated many shallow-water habitats, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, and the cooling has led to widespread extinction in some groups. While environmental conditions at glacial maxima would have been very different from those existing today, fossil evidence indicates that some lineages extend back well into the Cenozoic. Oscillations of the ice-sheet on Milankovitch frequencies will have periodically eradicated and exposed continental shelf habitat, and a full understanding of evolutionary dynamics at high latitude requires better knowledge of the links between the faunas of the shelf, slope and deep-sea. Molecular techniques to produce phylogenies, coupled with further palaeontological work to root these phylogenies in time, will be essential to further progress.