Conceptual and empirical advances in Neotropical biodiversity research

PeerJ. 2018 Oct 4;6:e5644. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5644. eCollection 2018.


The unparalleled biodiversity found in the American tropics (the Neotropics) has attracted the attention of naturalists for centuries. Despite major advances in recent years in our understanding of the origin and diversification of many Neotropical taxa and biotic regions, many questions remain to be answered. Additional biological and geological data are still needed, as well as methodological advances that are capable of bridging these research fields. In this review, aimed primarily at advanced students and early-career scientists, we introduce the concept of "trans-disciplinary biogeography," which refers to the integration of data from multiple areas of research in biology (e.g., community ecology, phylogeography, systematics, historical biogeography) and Earth and the physical sciences (e.g., geology, climatology, palaeontology), as a means to reconstruct the giant puzzle of Neotropical biodiversity and evolution in space and time. We caution against extrapolating results derived from the study of one or a few taxa to convey general scenarios of Neotropical evolution and landscape formation. We urge more coordination and integration of data and ideas among disciplines, transcending their traditional boundaries, as a basis for advancing tomorrow's ground-breaking research. Our review highlights the great opportunities for studying the Neotropical biota to understand the evolution of life.

Keywords: Biodiversity; Biogeography; Biotic diversification; Community ecology; Landscape evolution; Phylogenetics; Phylogeny; Phylogeography; Scale; Tropics.

Grant support

The workshop “Origins of Biodiversity” was funded by Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg. The following researchers are supported by scholarship or research grants from the following agencies: Alexandre Antonelli by the Swedish Research Council (B0569601), the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013, ERC Grant Agreement 331024), the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, a Wallenberg Academy Fellowship, the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Gothenburg, the Wenner-Gren Foundations, and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University; Camila D. Ritter by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq 249064/2013-8); Daniele Silvestro by the Swedish Research Council (2015-04748); Fernanda P. Werneck by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Amazonas, the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (PEER NAS/USAID, USA), and the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Awards (Brazil and France); Isabel Sanmartín by MINECO/FEDER (CGL2015-67849-P); James S. Albert by the National Science Foundation (NSF 0614334, 0741450, and 1354511); Josué A. R. Azevedo by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) (99999.001292/2015-03); Lúcia G. Lohmann by a collaborative Dimensions of Biodiversity-NSF/Biota-FAPESP grant (FAPESP 2012/50260-6) and by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (2017/12797-1); Pável Matos-Maraví by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship (704035); Thaís Guedes by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP, 2013/04170-8 and 2014/18837-7). No additional external funding was received for this study. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.