My research concentrates on the Mediterranean realm, the Indian Ocean, and Caribbean Sea, their palaeobiogeographic relations, and their role in the Cenozoic ocean-climate system. There I focus on temporal and spatial environmental and biotic changes since the late Paleogene with the aim to assess the influence of local vs. regional and global factors on shallow water ecosystems in warm-temperate and tropical seas.
Currently, I recieve funding from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) for a project on Oligocene–Miocene biogeography in the Bay of Bengal (P 28591-N29). At present-day, the center of maximum marine biodiversity is located in the tropical waters of the Indo-Australian Archipelago in the central Indo-Pacific. The origin of this marine species richness is, however, largely unknown. Recent molecular genetic and palaeontological data indicate that the role of Pleistocene sea level changes in the formation of the biodiversity center may be less important than previously thought and that the enormous richness of underwater life has evolved through millions of years by immigration and local evolution of species controlled by the displacement of major tectonic plates and global climate fluctuations. But due to the often incorrect taxonomic identification and unprecise age-estimates of the sparse fossil record only few information exist concerning the biogeography of the early Indian Ocean and its relationships with the Mediterranean region. In particular the Gulf of Bengal has to be considered as palaeontological "Terra incognita". The FWF-project "Closing the gap — Oligocene–Miocene patterns of faunal dispersal and biodiversity in the Indian Ocean" aims at a better understanding of the origin and changing patterns of Indo-Pacific marine biodiversity in the context of regional and global tectonic and climatic changes. To close the knowledge gap in the NE Indian Ocean it is intended to create a modern taxonomic dataset, which includes different groups of marine organisms (gastropods, bivalves, echinoids, decapods, corals, benthic foraminifers) and offer a high level of temporal resolution (at least chronostratigraphic stages). For this purpose it is planned to sample key localities in Sri Lanka, NE India and Myanmar, which document the critical late Oligocene to middle Miocene time interval, when large-scale plate movements interrupted the marine gateways to the Mediterranean basins and uplifted the Indo-Australian Archipelago. The integration of various palaeontological, sedimentological and stratigraphic informations will allow identifying local processes possibly overprinting the regional and global signals. The superordinate objective of the project is a comprehensive study that will integrate the palaeontological, sedimentological and stratigraphic results with comparable data sets from the central and eastern Mediterranean, Iran, Oman, western India and Tanzania, which were generated in previous FWF-projects by the working group. The high temporal resolution and spatially precise biogeographical division intended will not only allow correlating changes in species distribution and richness to palaeoclimatic, palaeoceanographic and tectonic events in the studied late Oligocene to middle Miocene time interval but may also provide valuable information to evaluate the differential responses of recent shallow marine ecosystems in the Indo-Westpacific region to current global change.