Simon Coppard

Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Simon Coppard was a co-author of a paper that was awarded a Smithsonian 2017 Secretary’s Research Prize in recognition of excellence in recent research. Titled “Formation of the Isthmus of Panama,” the paper was published in the journal Science Advances in 2016.

The paper, which involved researchers from 23 institutions, reevaluated in unprecedented, rigorous detail, all of the available lines of evidence—geologic, oceanographic, genetic and ecological data—and the analyses that bear on the question of when the Isthmus formed.

The researchers concluded that records from marine and terrestrial fossils, volcanic and marine rocks, and the genes of marine animals split by the formation of the Isthmus all tell the same story: the Isthmus of Panama formed 2.8 million years ago. This is contrary to a number of recent publications that have proposed the formation of an earlier isthmus between 23 to 6 million years ago.

The dating of this event is important as it is used to predict models of global oceans and calibrate rates of molecular evolution. It also provides a minimum estimate for both the time that marine organisms in the two oceans have evolved independently of one another, and the interchange of previously isolated terrestrial organisms between North and South America.

Since its publication last year, “Formation of the Isthmus of Panama” has been cited 70 times.

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