Pioneering research has shown that marine ecosystems can resume functioning, performing important functions for humans, after being wiped out long before they return to peak biodiversity.
The international research team found that plankton were able to recover and resume their primary function of regulating carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere more than twice as quickly as they had regained their full level of biodiversity.
Lead author Daniela Schmidt, professor of paleobiology at the University of Bristol, said: “These findings are extremely important, given growing concerns about species extinctions in response to dramatic environmental changes. Our study indicates that marine systems can withstand some loss in terms of biodiversity without losing full functionality, which gives hope. However, we still don’t know the precise tipping point, so the focus must remain focused on preserving this fragile relationship and protecting biodiversity.
While previous research has shown functionality to recover faster than biodiversity in algae, this is the first study to corroborate the finding higher in the food chain of zooplankton, which is vital for marine life in the part of the food web supporting fish.
Scientists analyzed tiny organisms called foraminifera, the size of sand grains, from the mass extinction known as Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg), which took place around 66 million years ago. ‘years and eradicated three quarters of the land plant and animal species. It is the most catastrophic event in the history of modern plankton evolution, as it resulted in the collapse of one of the main functions of the ocean, the “biological pump” that sucks in. large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the ocean where it remains buried. in sediments for thousands of years. The cycle influences not only the availability of nutrients for marine life, but also the levels of carbon dioxide outside the sea and therefore the climate in general.
Lead author Dr Heather Birch, a former researcher at the university’s School of Earth Sciences and the Cabot Institute for the Environment, said: “Our research shows how long – about 4 million years – it takes for an ecosystem to fully recover after an extinction event. Considering the human impact on current ecosystems, this should make us aware. However, it is important to note that the relationship between marine organisms and the marine carbon pump, which affects atmospheric CO2, does not appear to be closely related.
Professor Schmidt added, “The findings underscore the importance of linking climate projections to ecosystem models of open coastal and ocean environments to improve our ability to understand and predict the impact of climate-induced extinctions on marine life and their services to humans, such as fishing. More research is needed to see what is going on and if the same patterns are evident higher up in the food web, for example with fish. ”
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