Pedro Monarrez, a doctoral student in the Department of Geology

Escalation Hypothesis can be described best as a sort of “arms race” of evolutionary modifications between species.

Perhaps one group of organisms develop the ability to burrow while their predators develop greater mobility.

Pedro Monarrez, a doctoral student in the Department of Geology advised by Dr. Steven Holland, tests for the presence of escalation during the heart of the Mesozoic Era- the Jurassic Period- which spans from 199 to 145 million years ago.

Growing up, Monarrez struggled with whether to pursue marine biology or geology.

“Being a paleontologist/paleobiologist allows me to be able to do both,” he explains.

“My research in general tackles an important question regarding the main factors that influence biodiversity through time.”

For example, Monarrez explains how it has long been debated whether biological factors such as competition and predation or physical factors such as climate and environmental change play a more important role on biodiversity.

“The advantage that [paleontologists/paleobiologists] have over biologists is that we have a lot of time to work with (millions of years) as opposed to human time scales.”

By understanding the importance of the factors that have controlled biodiversity in the past, scientists can predict and understand how modern biodiversity will respond to ongoing climate and environmental change.

“We look to the past to understand the present and future,” Monarrez sums up.

But how does a scientist even begin to look for evidence of escalation in a fossil record that spans millions of years?

Monarrez tests for escalation by combining previously collected ecological data from an online database and through fieldwork in different regions.

“My database is global,” Monarrez explains, but parsed out by 5 main regions (North America, South America, New Zealand, Europe, and Africa and the Middle East).

Monarrez’s preliminary results show that escalation likely occurred in Europe during the Jurassic, but not anywhere else.

“Additionally, my results show that because the sample size is much larger in Europe, the patterns observed there drive the global pattern.”

As such, Monarrez’s research was able to refute previous observations that escalation occurred globally during the Jurassic period.

“After ruling out other factors, I concluded that the ecological patterns I observed in Europe are likely driven by escalation.”

Monarrez’s research also involves a smaller scale comparison of data during the Middle Jurassic period (171 to 165 million years ago) from present-day Utah and England.

During the Middle Jurassic, these two areas would have had vastly different climates than they enjoy today.

Both areas would have been under a shallow ocean during the Middle Jurassic, meaning that present-day Utah would have had an arid climate while present-day England would have been subtropical or tropical.

Monarrez plans to compare these findings to the first part of his research to determine if local patterns agree with regional and global patterns.

“This will help us understand how evolutionary processes occur at different times,” he explains.

Monarrez, who chose to study at UGA because of his advisor’s reputation within the paleontological community as well as the University’s standing as a top R1 institution, “wanted to be a part of a community with a renown scientific prowess.”

After graduation, Monarrez plans to continue to his research and teach.

“I love scientific research and I also love to teach, so ideally I would like to be able to teach and conduct research at a university research institution.”