Nature: Landscape dynamics and the Phanerozoic diversification of the biosphere

The long-term diversification of the biosphere responds to changes in the physical environment. Yet, over the continents, the nearly monotonic expansion of life started later in the early part of the Phanerozoic eon1 than the expansion in the marine realm, where instead the number of genera waxed and waned over time2. A comprehensive evaluation of the changes in the geodynamic and climatic forcing fails to provide a unified theory for the long-term pattern of evolution of life on Earth. Here we couple climate and plate tectonics models to numerically reconstruct the evolution of the Earth’s landscape over the entire Phanerozoic eon, which we then compare to palaeo- diversity datasets from marine animal and land plant genera. Our results indicate that biodiversity is strongly reliant on landscape dynamics, which at all times determine the carrying capacity of both the continental domain and the oceanic domain. In the oceans, diversity closely adjusted to the riverine sedimentary flux that provides nutrients for primary production. On land, plant expansion was hampered by poor edaphic conditions until widespread endorheic basins resurfaced continents with a sedimentary cover that facilitated the development of soil-dependent rooted flora, and the increasing variety of the landscape additionally promoted their development.

Salles, T., Husson, L., Lorcery, M. et al. Landscape dynamics and the Phanerozoic diversification of the biosphere. Nature (2023).

A companion News & Views article on the significance of the paper has published in Nature and a video summarising the main results is available here. For the USyd press release, see: Landscape dynamics determine the evolution of biodiversity on Earth. Amongst others, there is a piece in The Conversation and the research was the lead story of the Life section of the New Scientist.