Mechanistic simulation models reveal pervasive range shifts and extinctions in Quaternary South America

Dr. Robert K. Colwell1,2,3,4, Dr. Thiago F.  Rangel3, Dr. Neil R. Edwards5, Dr. Phillip B. Holden5, Dr. José Alexandre F.  Diniz-Filho3, Dr.  William D. Gosling5,6, Dr. Carsten Rahbek4,7

1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, United States of America, 2University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, Boulder, United States of America, 3Departamento de Ecologia, Universidade Federal de Goiás, Goiânia, Brazil, 4Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, 5School of Environment, Earth, and Ecosystems, The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, 6Department of Ecosystem and Landscape Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 7Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London,, Ascot, United Kingdom

On a case-by-case basis, the evidence that current climate change is driving the geographical redistribution of species is irrefutable, and the first documented signs of contemporary climate-driven extinctions are emerging. But how pervasive were range shifts and extinctions under changing climates of the past? We built a spatially-explicit, mechanistic simulation model that implements range shifts, dispersal, evolutionary adaptation, range fragmentation, speciation, competition, and extinction, driven by modeled climates of the past 800,000 years in South America. Quaternary glacial-interglacial cycles, the constraints of topography, and adaptive niche evolution played dominant roles in driving cumulative spatial patterns of richness, as well as hotspots and temporal peaks of speciation (cradles), persistence (museums), and range-collapse extinctions (graves). Although each simulation began with a single founding species, had no target pattern, and was not parameterized with empirical data, the emerging maps of cumulative species richness closely resembled contemporary richness maps for birds, mammals, and plants, despite the much more ancient origin of most lineages and species in these groups. The simulations strongly imply that range shifts and extinctions have played a powerful and pervasive role in establishing present patterns of species richness and are likely to be equally pervasive responses to current climate change.


Colwell is an international authority on concepts, patterns, measurement, and modeling of biodiversity, including the effects of climate change on biogeographical patterns in the past and the future, especially in the tropics. His work with biogeographical theory and stochastic spatial models has stimulated controversy and new directions in the field, with links to evolutionary biology and conservation. Colwell’s publications have been cited more than 47,000 times in the peer-reviewed literature, in more than 800 different journals and hundreds of books. He is a Web of Science (Clarivate) Highly Cited Researcher for 2018. Colwell served on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley from 1971 to 1989, and subsequently at the University of Connecticut until 2014. He is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the California and Connecticut Academies of Science. In addition to his (emeritus) title at the University of Connecticut (Distinguished Research Professor), he also holds current appointments at the University of Colorado (USA), the Universidade Federal de Goiás (Brazil), the University of Copenhagen (DK), and the University of the Sunshine Coast (Australia).

Species on the Move

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The conference brings together scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and relevant in contexts of natural resource management, biodiversity management and conservation, and theoretical ecology.

Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales.

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