Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Taking evolution’s temperature: Researchers pinpoint the energy it takes to make a species


Comfortable living is not why so many different life forms seem to converge at the warmer areas of the planet.

Writing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say higher temperatures near the equator speed up the metabolisms of the inhabitants, fueling genetic changes that actually lead to the creation of new species.

The finding - by researchers from the University of Florida, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, Harvard University and the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque - helps explain why more living species seem to exist near the equator, a scientific observation made even before naturalist Charles Darwin set sail to South America on the H.M.S. Beagle nearly two centuries ago.

It may also have a bearing on concepts such as global warming and efforts to preserve diversity of life on Earth.

"We’ve shown that there is indeed a higher rate of evolutionary change in the form and structure of plankton in the tropics and that it increases exponentially because of temperature," said James Gillooly, Ph.D., an assistant professor of zoology with the UF Genetics Institute. "It tells us something about the fundamental mechanisms that shape biodiversity on the planet."

Speciation - when animals or plants actually evolve into a new species - occurs when life forms with a common ancestor undergo substantial genetic change.

Using a mathematical model based on the body size and temperature-dependence of individual metabolism, the researchers made specific predictions on rates of speciation at the global scale. Then, using fossils and genetic data, they looked at rates of DNA evolution and speciation during a 30-million-year period in foraminifera plankton, a single-celled animal that floats in the ocean.

Researchers compared arrivals of new species of this type of plankton with differences in ocean temperatures at different latitudes ranging from the tropics to the arctic. The results agreed closely with predictions of their model.

"It takes more energy than all the fossil fuel people burn on the planet in a year to form one new species of plankton," said Andrew Allen, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "In terms of conservation, this really highlights that biodiversity does have a price, and the price is very high."

To put a number on it, it takes about 10 to the 23rd power - that is a 1 followed by 23 zeros - of energy units called joules to generate a new species of foraminifera plankton.

"From a scientific perspective, we can now quantify biodiversity in terms of energy," Allen said. "This will help efforts to identify and model areas for protection and conservation."

By observing changes in a unicellular animal whose body temperature varies according to its surroundings, as opposed to a mammal, which regulates a constant body temperature, scientists could more precisely measure rates of speciation caused by the environment. In the end, it is individual metabolic rate - how fast an organism burns food relative to its body weight - that primarily determines evolutionary rate. And higher environmental temperatures help increase metabolism.

"Diversity is the hallmark of the living. Understanding the principles underlying the generation and maintenance of diversity will allow us to understand life, and also how to preserve it," said Pablo Marquet, Ph.D., an associate professor and member of the Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, who was not involved in the research. "Changes in our environment, such as global warming, will not only affect the way the ecosystem functions, but also how life will evolve and hence how diversity is distributed across the planet."

One of the novel insights in the paper is the finding that the energy required to produce a new species is a fixed quantity.

"These authors are changing evolutionary biology, ecology and biogeography, putting them into a firm and quantitative foundation based on the first principles underlying individual metabolism," Marquet said.

John Pastor | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>