Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Why there was a sudden diversification of species

31.03.2015

Around 540 million years ago there was a sudden diversification of species on earth. Within a short period of time, countless new species evolved almost simultaneously, becoming the predecessors of today's main animal groups. But what caused this rapid evolution? Palaeontologists around the world have been searching for the answer to this question for centuries.

Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now confirmed the existing theories that extreme niche formation and tectonic plate movements are responsible for the development of the wide variety of species. Their findings have recently been published in the renowned journal PNAS*.


Examples of the oldest fossils of shelled animals from the early Cambrian Period.

Image: Lin Na

451 million years ago, an event took place that had a major influence on the evolution of life on earth. This event was the Cambrian explosion, which took place at the beginning of the Cambrian Period over a – from a geological point of view – relatively short period of 5 to 10 million years and saw the evolution of all of the major modern animal groups.

To find out what caused this event, researchers from FAU's Geozentrum Nordbayern evaluated a large database of fossils from the Cambrian Period. They analysed the biological diversity of all known species from this period on a local, regional and global level with the aim of understanding the ecological principles that led to the Cambrian explosion.

The causes? Niche formation and plate tectonics

'We discovered that while the number of species within local ecosystems increased in the early Cambrian Period, this was not the main reason for the evolution of the variety of species on a global level,' says Lin Na from FAU's Chair of Palaeoenvironmental Studies. Instead, the different evolution of different populations was much more important.

This is because as species adapted more and more to their environment their ecological niches became more restricted. This meant that individual populations evolved into new species that were adapted to their environments. Carnivores played an important role in this, as Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling, Chair of Palaeoenvironmental Studies, explains.

'Carnivores kept populations small, preventing too much competition for resources. At the same time, however, they forced species to develop new ways of avoiding being eaten and increasingly sophisticated methods of getting food.'

This biological arms race controlled the variety of species at a local and regional level. However, on a global level there was another factor driving the evolution of species forward: plate tectonics. At the beginning of the Cambrian Period, the supercontinent Pannotia broke apart. From then on, deep oceans separated parts of the land and the different sea creatures evolved separately.

'We saw a significant increase in provincialism. The species composition found in the continents' different old shelf seas became more and more different. This could be the main reason that the total number of species increased so considerably,' says Lin Na.

*Lin Na, Wolfgang Kießling: 'Diversity partitioning during the Cambrian radiation', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1424985112

Further information:
Lin Na
lin.na@fau.de

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling
Phone: +49 9131 8526959
Wolfgang.kiessling@fau.de

Dr. Susanne Langer | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.fau.de/

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Multi-year submarine-canyon study challenges textbook theories about turbidity currents
12.12.2017 | Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

nachricht How do megacities impact coastal seas? Searching for evidence in Chinese marginal seas
11.12.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A whole-body approach to understanding chemosensory cells

13.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

Water without windows: Capturing water vapor inside an electron microscope

13.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cellular Self-Digestion Process Triggers Autoimmune Disease

13.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>