Rise of Modern Biological Diversity in the Phanerozoic

Group of participants in 2015 Critical Transitions workshop gathered on stage

2015 Critical Transitions in the History of Life Workshop

April 4-6, 2015, The Field Museum

This workshop continued a series of bilateral workshops between Chinese and American scientists to address Critical Transitions in the History of Life. The series started in 2005, co-sponsored by the US National Science Foundation, through grant number NSF EAR 450143, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. The 2015 Chicago workshop focused on a central theme: the Rise of Modern Biodiversity in the Phanerozoic. Nearly 60 participants came together for the three-day workshop, including key players and junior researchers from China and the US in paleontology, evolutionary biology, taphonomy, biostratigraphy, and geochemistry. Together, these experts worked to understand and answer two main questions: How how did modern biodiversity arise, and how were functionally modern ecosystems assembled over geological time?

Discussions highlighted four key topics, all of which are broadly applicable to studying all critical transitions in the history of life:

  • New and powerful tools for improving temporal calibrations
  • The integration of molecular and fossil datasets in evolutionary reconstructions
  • Quantitative and ecomorphological analyses of the fossil record
  • Advances in biogeochemistry and sedimentary geology.

Participants shared their recent research through 33 platform presentations, organized into five broad themes, followed by in-depth roundtable discussions with the goal of identifying new avenues of research on topics of shared interest. Graduate students and other participants also presented research in a poster session.

View full list of workshop participants

Shared Approaches and Common Goals

The participants reached consensus on four common goals to pursue in order to better understand the rise of modern biological diversity.

  • Combine the analyses of genomic and phenomic (including fossil) data for phylogenetic reconstruction
  • Promote and support a database of high standard and consistency of fossil calibrations for molecular evolution
  • Capitalize on recent advances in developmental biology, and promote Evolutionary Development in case studies on critical transitions;
  • Explore a common platform for studies on critical transitions.  The Sino-US collaboration in paleontology should seek a common protocol to share data, or a web portal of mirrored databases, with databases in US, China and elsewhere. However, some databases have different levels of proprietary data (including unpublished data), thus cannot be shared as a common tool as the PaleoBiology Database.

Suggestions for Future Sino-US Workshops

  • Early evolution of gnathostome vertebrates
  • Promote ecological food web analyses in paleobiology
  • Terrestrialization, invasion of land habitats by major clades; rise land ecosystems
  • Evolutionary Development as a new approach to identify new questions and to define new research frontiers
  • Pan-Laurasian Palearctic biogeography.

Steering Committee of US Scientists

  • Dr. Peter J. Makovicky (NSF-Award PI for the workshop), The Field Museum
  • Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo (Co-PI), The University of Chicago (UChicago)
  • Dr. Patrick Herendeen, The Chicago Botanic Garden

Chinese Coordinators for the workshop

  • Prof. Xiangdong Wang, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, CAS
  • Prof. Tao Deng, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, CAS