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Scientists unravel biotic colonization history of subtropical East Asian caves

fig. 1 The Yangzi Cave in Guangxi, China is an example of a karst cave. Credit: IBCAS

Caves have an isolated, highly zonal environment and harbor unique and vulnerable biotas with a high degree of endemism. Little is known, however, about how cave biotic colonization evolved over time, especially in mid-latitude and low-latitude caves.

To broaden knowledge in this area, researchers led by Prof. Wang Wei of the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IBCAS) recently studied caves in subtropical East Asia to unravel their colonization history.

Their study was published in PNAS.

Subtropical East Asia has the world’s largest karst landform with numerous ancient caves. These caves are home to a great diversity of cave-dwelling organisms and are considered a biodiversity hotspot.

Wang’s team selected 28 clades containing 1,437 species for their study. These species belong to 43 genera of ferns, angiosperms, arachnids, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and fungi.

The study showed that most cave colonization events occurred after the Oligocene-Miocene boundary and the surrounding forest became an important source of cave biodiversity. It also showed that biotic colonization during the Neogene went through periods of acceleration and decline and was not a random process.

By modeling variations of distribution ranges of East Asian subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests over time and analyzing paleoclimate data from 19 fossil sites, the researchers proposed that biotic colonization of subtropical East Asian caves during the Neogene occurred in conjunction with large-scale , seasonal climatic changes and the evolution of local forests.

Scientists unravel biotic colonization history of subtropical East Asian caves

fig. 2 Colonization dynamics of subtropical East Asian caves in relation to paleogeoclimate and vegetation changes. Credit: IBCAS

“We found that climatic changes over time and the evolution of local vegetation, as well as the emergence of a seasonal climate, drove the biotic colonization of subtropical East Asian caves over time,” Wang said, corresponding author of the study.

The scientists further proposed a climate-vegetation relict model for subtropical East Asian cave biota, which may also help explain the evolutionary origin of other subterranean biotas at mid-latitudes.

“Cave biotas may be the extensions of local surface biotas,” Wang said.

Engelhardia plants are examples of vegetation transformation across the tropical Indochina peninsula to subtropical China

More information:
Xiao-Qian Li et al, Biotic colonization of subtropical East Asian caves through time, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2207199119

Provided by the Chinese Academy of Sciences

Quote: Scientists Unravel the Biotic Colonization History of Subtropical East Asian Caves (2022, Aug 17) retrieved Aug 17, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-scientists-unravel-biotic-colonization-history.html

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