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"Mountains as Biodiversity Hotspots through Time: Integrating Fossils with Tectonics and Climate"

THM 116
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s):
Dr. Tara Smiley | Faculty Host: Dr. Robbie Burger

SelfieDr. Tara Smiley | Smiley Lab


I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in how climate and landscape history shape the diversity, biogeography, and ecological structure of mammalian faunas across spatio-temporal scales. I test hypotheses about how changes in climate, tectonic activity, topographic complexity, and habitat heterogeneity impact communities and ecological processes at local scales and govern diversity at regional scales. To do so, I use the fossil record to investigate diversity patterns, macroevolutionary processes, and paleoecology, focusing on the history of small mammals during the Cenozoic. My work on the past is conducted in parallel with investigations of modern and historical small-mammal populations across broad climatic and environmental gradients today.

My research group integrates fieldwork, specimen-based research, and quantitative paleobiology. Primary tools of our research include stable isotope ecology and paleoenvironmental reconstruction, analysis of trait variation, diversification analysis, and coupling of geological and biological modeling approaches. We work in western North America and in the East African Rift, both tectonically active and dynamic landscapes with high species richness today and in the past. 


Mountains across the globe are biodiversity hotspots for many different groups of plants and animals; however, the deep-time relationship between mountain building and biodiversity remains elusive and requires integration across disciplines in geosciences, paleontology, and biology. When and how did these hotspots form? What role do landscape and climate dynamics play in eco-evolutionary processes? Using modern and fossil records, as well as empirical and quantitative approaches, my research program investigates how the biodiversity of mammals has been influenced by tectonic and climate interactions that shape mountain landscapes and generate topographic and climatic gradients. In this presentation, I will focus on the diversification history and faunal structure of mammals in the Basin and Range Province of western North America across the Neogene, highlighting the role of tectonic extension and global warming during the Miocene Climate Optimum (17-14 million years ago) at multiple spatial scales. I will also share new research from coupled landscape-biotic evolution models to understand how tectonic uplift may both generate and preserve evidence of montane biodiversity hotspots in the fossil record.


Watch the seminar here!

Smiley_Flyer.pdf (4.06 MB)