Historical Biogeography of the Isthmus of Panama

This paper was written through a collaboration with evolutionary biologist Egbert Leigh who has worked at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama for most of his scientific career and takes inspiration from the plants and animals of the Island of Barro Colorado, and the malacologist Geerat Vermeij.

About 3 million years ago, the Isthmus of Panama joined the Americas, forming a land bridge over which inhabitants of each America invaded the other—the Great American Biotic Interchange. These invasions transformed land ecosystems in South and Middle America. Humans invading from Asia over 12,000 years ago killed most mammals over 44 kg, again transforming tropical American ecosystems. As a sea barrier, the isthmus induced divergent environmental change off its two coasts—creating contrasting ecosystems through differential extinction and diversification.

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