Coevolution in the Anthropocene: The Complexity of Nature in a Rapidly Changing World
The complexity of life on earth is a product of the diversity of species multiplied by the diversity of their interactions. The quantification of species diversity, which requires both correct identification and resolved evolutionary patterns, is a prerequisite to accurately interpret their interactions. One charismatic group of tropical plants, which includes bananas, birds-of-paradise, heliconias, and gingers, offers insights into the ecology of the animals with which they have coevolved. Specifically, the ecological interactions between beetle herbivores and hummingbird pollinators with their plant hosts reveal intricate patterns of evolutionary history and how these species may respond to today’s rapidly changing planet. Human-caused habitat alterations, biological invasions, and climate change may significantly modify and disrupt through time and space the historical patterns of ecological interactions. As scientists and as citizens we must recognize and address the past and present causes of these disruptions. The future of the Earth’s biological complexity in the Age of Humans, in the Anthropocene, depends on our solutions.
***Dr. Kress was trained in tropical biology, ethnobotany, evolution, and ecology. He is a taxonomic specialist on the tropical Zingiberales and his current research is focused on biodiversity genomics, conservation, and the Anthropocene. Among his over 200 scientific and popular papers are his books Plant Conservation – A Natural History Approach, The Weeping Goldsmith: Discoveries in the Secret Land of Myanmar, and The Ornaments of Life - Coevolution and Conservation in the Tropics. His most recent book is Living in the Anthropocene – Earth in the Age of Humans about climate change and society.