Geologically vibrant continents produce higher biodiversity


Using a new mechanistic model of evolution on Earth, researchers at ETH Zurich can now better explain why the rainforests of Africa are home to fewer species than the tropical forests of South America and Southeast Asia. The key to high species diversity lies in how dynamically the continents have evolved over time.

Mountain building brings up diversity

Led by Loïc Pellissier, Professor of Landscape Ecology, researchers at ETH Zurich have now investigated this question with the help of a new computer model that allows them to simulate species diversification over millions of years of evolution. They conclude that the current climate is not the main reason why biodiversity is lower in the rainforests of Africa. Rather, biodiversity has emerged from the dynamics of mountain building and climate change. The results of the historical simulations largely coincide with the patterns of biodiversity distribution observable today.

Loïc Pellissier is a member of the Swiss Plant Science Web, see his research portfolio.

Reference publications
Hagen O, Skeels A, Onstein R, Jetz W, Pellissier L.
Earth history events shaped the evolution of uneven biodiversity across tropical moist forests.
PNAS, Publication date: Oct 1st 2021.

Hagen O, Flück B, Fopp F, Cabral JS, Hartig F, Pontarp M, et al. (2021)
gen3sis: A general engine for eco-evolutionary simulations of the processes that shape Earth’s biodiversity.
PLoS Biol 19(7): e3001340. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001340,

ETH Zurich News (article in English), (article in German)