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Continents and Supercontinents$
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John J. W. Rogers and M. Santosh

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195165890

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195165890.001.0001

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Effects of Continents and Supercontinents on Organic Evolution

Effects of Continents and Supercontinents on Organic Evolution

(p.176) 12 Effects of Continents and Supercontinents on Organic Evolution
Continents and Supercontinents

John J.W. Rogers

M. Santosh

Oxford University Press

The earth’s organic life has changed continually for more than 3.5 billion years. This evolution may have resulted partly from environmental stress generated by tectonic activity within the earth and partly from processes independent of the earth’s interior. This chapter investigates these different effects in an attempt to determine the role that continents played in the evolution of organisms. Continents and tectonics associated with them may have influenced organic evolution in both active and passive ways. Active effects include several processes that partly controlled the earth’s surface environment. Climate change was caused partly by movements of continents and construction of orogenic belts. Continental rifting increased the area of shallow seas as new continental margins subsided. Changes in volume of ocean ridges and epeiric movements of continents caused marine transgressions and regressions. Temperatures of water in shallow seas increased or decreased as continents moved across latitudes. The major passive effects of continents and supercontinents result from their influence on diversity of organisms. When continents were broadly dispersed and occupied most latitudes, as on the present earth, this isolation resulted in shallow-water and subaerial families that contained numerous genera, genera with large numbers of species, and species divided among many different varieties. This diversity was clearly smaller at times when continents were aggregated into a few landmasses and particularly low when supercontinents permitted exchange of organisms throughout most of the world’s land and shallow seas. During times of major environmental stress, these differences would have restricted extinction of organisms to local species and genera during times of high diversity but might have permitted disappearance of whole orders and classes when diversity was low. Organic evolution was almost certainly affected by species diversity, but it may have occurred without any active control by tectonic processes. Although evolution probably occurs only when changing environments place stresses on organisms that enhance the competition among them, it is also possible that competition between organisms can cause evolution even without significant environmental change. Furthermore, some environmental change probably resulted from processes that are not related to the tectonics of the solid earth.

Keywords:   Abiotic, Bioturbation, Charniodiscus, Ediacaran, Ichnofossils, Kerogen, Land plants, Molecular fossils, Ordovician extinction

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