Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Simon Coppard co-authored a letter that was recently published in Science Advances. “Building Bridges: Response to Erkens and Hoorn: “The Panama Isthmus, ‘old,’ ‘young’ or both?” is a follow-up to the authors’ article on the formation of the Isthmus of Panama, published in the journal last summer.

The authors said, “It has long been understood that the emerging Panama Arc comprised a complex archipelago separated by channels of varying width and depth with land emergent as early as 40 Ma. Geophysical, sedimentological and molecular data demonstrate that interoceanic seaways became narrower and shallower following collision of the arc with South America in the Miocene. This change would have led to a greater probability of successful dispersals of terrestrial animals between the continents over these straits. These dispersals most likely occurred via rafting, which we show is a process frequent enough to account for the several intercontinental dispersals observed in the Miocene fossil record, as well as colonization of several Caribbean islands by monkeys, ants, palms, and freshwater fish, amongst others.

“There is great potential for research on the theme and a universal need to refine the model of Isthmus formation, especially with regard to the changing paleogeography and paleoceanography of ancient interoceanic connections and how those changes affected marine and terrestrial biota. We look forward to the bridges that will be built through this scientific discourse.”

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