Written Paper

OCBIL theory: towards an integrated understanding of the evolution, ecology and conservation of biodiversity on old, climatically buffered, infertile landscapes  [2009]

Hopper, Stephen D.

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OCBIL theory aims to develop an integrated series of hypotheses explaining the evolution and ecology of, and best conservation practices for, biota on very old, climatically buffered, infertile landscapes (OCBILs). Conventional theory for ecology and evolutionary and conservation biology has developed primarily from data on species and communities from young, often disturbed, fertile landscapes (YODFELs), mainly in the Northern Hemisphere. OCBILs are rare, but are prominent in the Southwest Australian Floristic Region, South Africa's Greater Cape, and Venezuela's Pantepui Highlands. They may have been more common globally before Pleistocene glaciations. Based on the premise that natural selection has favoured limited dispersability of sedentary organisms, OCBILs should have elevated persistence of lineages (Gondwanan Heritage Hypothesis) and long-lived individuals (Ultimate Self Hypothesis), high numbers of localised rare endemics and strongly differentiated population systems. To counter such natural fragmentation and inbreeding due to small population size, ecological, cytogenetic and genetic mechanisms selecting for the retention of heterozygosity should feature (the James Effect). The climatic stability of OCBILs should be paralleled by persistence of adjacent semi-arid areas, conducive to speciation (Semiarid Cradle Hypothesis). Special nutritional and other biological traits associated with coping with infertile lands should be evident, accentuated i
n plants, for example, through water-foraging strategies, symbioses, carnivory, pollination and parasitism. The uniquely flat landscapes of southwestern Australia have had prolonged presence of saline lakes along palaeoriver systems favouring evolution of accentuated tolerance to salinity. Lastly, unusual resiliences and vulnerabilities might be evident among OCBIL organisms, such as enhanced abilities to persist in small fragmented populations but great susceptibility to major soil disturbances. In those places where it is most pertinent, OCBIL theory hopefully lays a foundation for future research and for better informed conservation management.

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Plant and soil

ISSN : 0032-079X