Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Climate change triggered dwarfism in soil-dwelling creatures of the past

08.10.2009
Ancient soil biota decreased in size by up to 46 percent during period 55 million years ago

Ancient soil-inhabiting creatures decreased in body size by nearly half in response to a period of boosted carbon dioxide levels and higher temperatures, scientists have discovered.

The researchers' findings are published in the October 5, 2009, early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Jon Smith, a scientist at the Kansas Geological Survey, and Stephen Hasiotis, a geologist at the University of Kansas, have demonstrated that soil-inhabiting creatures contracted in size by 30-46 percent during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

The PETM was a short interval 55 million years ago marked by a spike in the atmosphere's carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures, conditions being repeated on Earth now.

The study is the first to establish that soil biota experienced a loss in size similar to mammals, which were reduced in size by as much as 50 percent during the PETM.

"The discovery that up to 50 percent of the body size reduction during the PETM was not just restricted to mammals, but also affected soil-dwelling organisms, has broad implications that may be very significant to understanding modern climate change and its impending effect on life," said H. Richard Lane. Lane is a program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research by Hasiotis and colleague Mary Kraus at the University of Colorado.

"In our initial hypothesis, we thought that there would be no response to climate change, that the animals would be protected because they're underground," said Hasiotis.

"We also proposed that there would be minimal and protracted change or some sort of a delayed response. Instead, we find that they did experience the same kind of change as vertebrates living during the same period."

The soil-dwelling organisms examined by Smith and Hasiotis are ancient relatives of modern ants, cicadas, dung beetles, earthworms and crayfish.

To establish their findings, the researchers examined trace fossils, or the burrows, nests, tracks, trails and borings of organisms preserved within the Willwood Formation, a thick sequence of mudstones and sandstones in Wyoming's Bighorn Basin.

They found that diameters of burrows and other traces were smaller during the PETM, suggesting that the soil-inhabiting organisms that had created the traces were correspondingly lesser in size.

The scientists say that their results foreshadow biological outcomes that may result due to the planet's current jump in carbon dioxide concentration and temperatures.

They suggest that museum collections of insects compiled over the last few hundred years should be studied to determine whether body sizes of modern insects are indeed getting smaller.

"The PETM is seen as a good analog for modern climate change because it's occurring at roughly the same speed and magnitude," said Smith.

"The take-home lesson is that there can be cascading effects that ripple through an ecosystem when you change just one aspect. Modern climate change can have many effects that aren't going to be as immediately visible as sea-level change.

"We could be changing soil conditions over vast portions of the world and affecting the soil organisms themselves--and that will impact our own agriculture."

The researchers attribute dwarfism in soil-dwelling creatures to faster rates of development in individuals, along with decreasing life spans.

"The soil biota evolved for certain soil temperatures and conditions--and for this geologically brief period of time, those conditions were changed," Hasiotis said. "They probably were adapting to those warmer conditions by having a smaller body size."

During their time in the Bighorn Basin, a typical day in the field for the researchers involved digging shoulder-width trenches that were a meter or so deep and several meters tall, then searching the soil for specific geometric shapes indicating ancient nests, cocoons and burrows.

"For each individual trace fossil, we'd measure the diameter," said Smith. "We'd compare like trace fossils from rocks that occurred before the PETM event, within the event, and after the event. Then we'd look for changes in those diameters through time."

"We were surprised to find that they were in fact smaller through the PETM."

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>