Rutgers marine scientists say phytoplankton changed color 250 million years ago
Green was the dominant color for plants both on land and in the ocean until about 250 million years ago when changes in the ocean’s oxygen content - possibly sparked by a cataclysmic event - helped bring basic ocean plants with a red color to prominence - a status they retain today. That’s the view of a group led by marine scientists from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in a paper, "The Evolutionary Inheritance of Elemental Stoichiometry in Marine Phytoplankton" in the journal Nature, published Thursday (Sept. 18).
Studying ancient fossils plus current species of microscopic ocean plants called phytoplankton, the scientists found evidence that a "phytoplankton schism" took place after a global ocean oxygen depletion killed 85 percent of the organisms living in the ocean about 250 million years ago at the end of the Permian era. "This paved the way for the evolution of red phytoplankton," said one of the paper’s authors, Paul G. Falkowski, professor in the Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Program at Rutgers’ Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS). Falkowski has a joint appointment with Rutgers’ Department of Geological Sciences.
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