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Evolution in deep time and shallow seas

Fossils and genes of marine molluscs.

Fossil maori

Darwin’s original description of organic evolution as descent with modification represents a key step in the development of scientific thought and in our understanding of humankind’s place in the universe. Today, evolution is studied from two very different angles: from “instantaneous” observations of molecular change in living organisms, and from the long-term and imperfect account of organic change encapsulated in the fossil record.

This project has used New Zealand’s superb fossil record of clams and snails (mollusks), together with molecular data from the living fauna, to study evolution. In particular, it has examined relationships between morphological and genetic evolution on the one hand, key ecological traits on another, and major environmental changes. Key ecological traits include reproductive strategies and fecundity, life habits, water-depth preferences and body size. The project has built on results of previous Marsden-funded research into the nature and quality of the fossil record and patterns of marine biodiversity change over the past 50 million years in the New Zealand region.

Main findings:

This Marsden-funded research, and an earlier project, has:

  • quantified major biases that affect New Zealand's superb fossil record of marine molluscs, in order to mitigate those biases in studies of past biodiversity.
  • estimated major patterns of marine biodiversity change over the past 50 million years; contrary to previously accepted theory, diversity has not increased dramatically over this time period.
  • identified key ecological attributes that contribute to species longevity, and the ways in which those attributes interact with each other.
  • characterised the average pattern of species expansion following origination, and contraction prior to extinction, to reveal a surprising 'hump-shaped' pattern that contradicts modern ecological expectation.
  • characterised the genetic make-up of several species of living marine snail, and initiated the complex task of integrating information from the fossil record and modern molecular data to reveal novel insights into the evolution of New Zealand's marine fauna.
  • used sophisticated mathematical tools to reveal consistencies and differences between patterns of molecular and morphological evolution in snails.
  • contributed substantially to the organisation and science presented in three interdisciplinary "Geology and Genes" meetings (in 2006, 2009, 2014).
  • lead directly to two new Marsden-funded projects.
  • contributed solely or substantially to 14 publications in major international journals (three articles in Science) and many conference presentations.
Major publications:
  • Foote, M.; Crampton, J.S.; Beu, A.G.; Nelson, C.S.; 2014. Aragonite bias in the fossil record: preservation, ecology, and temporal variation. Paleobiology.
  • Hills, S.F.K.; Crampton, J.S.; Trewick, S.A.; Morgan-Richards, M.; 2012. DNA and morphology unite two species and 10 million year old fossils. PLoS One 7 (12): e52083: 1-13.
  • Crampton, J.S.; 2011. What drives biodiversity changes? [Invited perspective article]. Science 334: 1073-1074.
  • Crampton, J.S.; Foote, M.; Cooper, R.A.; Beu, A.G.; Peters, S.E.; 2011. The fossil record and spatial structuring of environments and biodiversity in the Cenozoic of New Zealand. McGowan, A.J.; Smith, A.B. (eds). Comparing the geological and fossil records: implications for biodiversity studies. Geological Society of London special publications 358: 105-122.
  • Crampton, J.S.; Cooper, R.A.; Beu, A.G.; Foote, M.; Marshall, B.A.; 2010. Biotic controls on species duration – interactions between traits in marine molluscs. Paleobiology 36: 204-223.
  • McCobish, B.J.; Hills, S.F.K.; Biggs, P.J.; Penny, D.; 2010. Index-free de novo assembly and deconvolution of mixed mitochondrial genomes. Genome biology and evolution 2: 410-424.
  • Spencer, H.G.; Marshall, B.A.; Maxwell, P.A.; Grant-Mackie, J.A.; Stilwell, J.D.; Willan, R.C.; Campbell, H.J.; Crampton, J.S.; Henderson, R.A. ; Bradshaw, M.A.; Waterhouse, J.B.; Pojeta, J.Jr; 2009. Chapter 10; Phylum Mollusca Chitons, Clams, Tusk shells, Snails, Squids, and Kin. In Gordon, D. (ed.), The New Zealand inventory of biodiversity. Volume one; Kingdom Animalia; Radiata, Lophotrochozoa, Deuterostomia. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch. Pp. 161-254.
  • Crampton, J.S.; 2008. Darwin’s legacy. In: Graham, I.G. (ed.). Pp. 232-233. A continent on the move; New Zealand geoscience into the 21st century. Geological Society of New Zealand in association with GNS Science. Geological Society of New Zealand miscellaneous publication 124.
  • Foote, M.; Crampton, J.S.; Beu, A.G.; Cooper, R.A.; 2008. On the bidirectional relationship between geographic range and taxonomic duration. Paleobiology 34: 421-433.
  • Foote, M.; Crampton, J.S.; Beu, A.G.; Marshall, B.A.; Cooper, R.A.; Maxwell, P.A.; Matcham, I.; 2007. Rise and fall of species occupancy in Cenozoic fossil mollusks. Science 318: 1131-1134; doi: 10.1126/science.1146303
  • Cooper, R.A.; Maxwell, P.A.; Crampton, J.S.; Beu, A.G.; Jones, C.M.; Marshall, B.A.; 2006. Completeness of the fossil record: estimating losses due to small body size. Geology 34: 241-244.
  • Crampton, J.S.; Foote, M.; Beu, A.G.; Cooper, R.A.; Matcham, I.; Jones, C.M.; Maxwell, P.A.; Marshall, B.A.; 2006. Second-order sequence stratigraphic controls on the quality of the fossil record at an active margin: New Zealand Eocene to Recent shelf molluscs. Palaios 21: 86-105.
  • Crampton, J.S.; Foote, M.; Beu, A.G.; Maxwell, P.A.; Cooper, R.A.; Matcham, I.; Marshall, B.A.; Jones, C.M.; 2006. The Ark was full! Constant to declining Cenozoic shallow marine biodiversity on an isolated mid-latitude continent. Paleobiology 32: 509-532.
  • Crampton, J.S.; Beu, A.G.; Cooper, R.A.; Jones, C. M.; Marshall, B.; Maxwell, P.A.; 2003. Estimating the rock volume bias in paleobiodiversity studies. Science 301: 358-360.

In addition to these publications, there have been a large number of conference presentations and media articles deriving from this research.

Principal Investigator: James Crampton

Associate Investigators:

  • Dr Alan Beu, GNS Science
  • Dr Roger Cooper, GNS Science
  • Professor Michael Foote, University of Chicago
  • Dr Austin Hendy, Yale University, USA
  • Mr Simon Hills, Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Massey University
  • Mr Bruce Marshall, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Dr Mary Morgan-Richards, Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Massey University