The July 19th News Focus in Science magazine features STRI’s debate regarding the timing of the rise of the Isthmus of Panama. In the weekly podcast, international news editor Richard Stone, who wrote the article based on a visit to STRI earlier this year, concludes: “The challenge for the backers of the new hypothesis is to overcome paleoocean data which points to a deep sea connection between the Caribbean and the Pacific that persisted until approximately 4 million years ago. I think that’s a pretty big challenge.
Most STRI scientists side with the accepted model of Isthmus formation based on marine microfossil and other evidence from the Panama Paleontology Project headed by Jeremy Jackson and Tony Coates. Their team concluded that the Isthmus closed about 3 million years ago, setting the molecular clock for geneticists who ask how “sister species” evolved after the oceans were separated.  The new hypothesis, initially proposed by geologist
Camilo Montes based on evidence he unearthed with Carlos Jaramillos’ group—taking advantage of the $5 billion Panama Canal widening project— is that the Isthmus closed as early as 15 million years ago.
NewsFocus: Battle for the Americas
Richard Strong
Science 19 July 2013: Vol. 341 no. 6143 pp. 230-233
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6143.230

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