A phylogenetic approach to understanding the evolution of the earth's biomes (Visiting Scholar)
Global biodiversity is neither uniformly nor randomly distributed. Rather, species are assembled into coherent communities and, at the broadest scale, biomes. Uncovering the evolutionary history of these assemblages is essential if we are to fully appreciate the diversification of life on Earth. On land, where communities are most often characterized by their dominant vegetation, information concerning the origins and past distributions of biomes has traditionally come exclusively from the plant fossil record. But while this source of data has provided important and critical insight, considerable uncertainty remains. A phylogenetic approach, centered on the reconstruction of biome-specific features across evolutionary timetrees, may well be able to deliver improved resolution. I am currently working to more fully develop such an approach in order to better understand the establishment of modern tropical rain forests, an incredibly diverse and fundamentally important terrestrial biome.