Navigation Links
Ancient food webs developed modern structure soon after mass extinction
Date:3/19/2014

Researchers from the Santa Fe Institute and the Smithsonian Institution have pieced together a highly detailed picture of feeding relationships among 700 mammal, bird, reptile, fish, insect, and plant species from a 48 million year old lake and forest ecosystem.

Their analysis of fossilized remains from the Messel deposit near Frankfurt, Germany, provides the most compelling evidence to date that ancient food webs were organized much like modern food webs. Their paper describing the research appears online and open access this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The researchers first compiled data about the more than 6,500 feeding relationships among 700 species found in the deposit, which dates to the Eocene epoch. Then they constructed two networks of feeding interactions one for the lake and one for the surrounding forest.

Next, they mathematically compared each food web's structural features with those of modern-day food web datasets matching up such indicators as fractions of cannibals, herbivores, and omnivores; the distributions of generalist and specialist feeders; the mean lengths of feeding chains connecting pairs of taxa; and so on.

"What we found is that the Messel lake food web, with 94 taxa and 517 links, looks very much like a modern food web," says SFI Professor Jennifer Dunne. "This is despite the fact that 48 million years of species turnover and evolution separate the Messel lake ecosystem from modern ecosystems."

Analysis of the Messel forest food web's structure was more challenging due to the high degree of species diversity represented in the Messel dataset 630 taxa and 5,534 feeding links far more than what datasets for modern webs include.

"Basically, we don't yet have examples of comprehensive modern terrestrial food web datasets that have the high resolution of plants, insects, and their interactions that we included in the Messel forest dataset," says Dunne.

Nevertheless, the researchers were able to show that the Messel forest web is likely comparable in structure to modern webs, by using models to account for differences in structure that would result from the many more taxa and interactions in the Messel data.

The results are significant because they show that the Messel ecosystem developed a modern ecological structure, along with a modern biota, in a relatively brief 18 million year period following Earth's most recent die-off, the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, which disrupted ecosystem dynamics on a massive scale and served as a species diversity bottleneck.

Dunne says that beyond the ecological and evolutionary significance of the study, the work resulted in the most highly resolved, detailed, and comprehensive terrestrial food web ever compiled.

"We want our data to serve as a challenge to ecologists to compile more highly and evenly resolved food web data for extant systems," she says.

Ancient food webs are particularly difficult to reconstruct because data about them is usually limited and of low quality. But the Messel shale deposit is unique. Scientists hypothesize that releases of toxic volcanic gases rendered the area's air and water lethal to most life in a short time. Animals in and near the lake were overwhelmed, and, along with plants, sunk to the low-oxygen depths of the lake where they were smothered in mud and fossilized, soft tissue and all.

The Messel includes outstanding evidence of feeding interactions, including stomach contents and bite marks in soft tissues that can be traced back to particular species' mouth parts, Dunne says.

"Compiling such a highly resolved food web was possible for the Messel because of the exquisite preservation of soft body parts and ecological traces in the deposit," she says, "and because my co-author, Conrad Labandeira, is one of the world's foremost experts on fossil plant-insect interactions."


'/>"/>

Contact: Jennifer Dunne
jdunne@santafe.edu
Santa Fe Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Ancient DNA shows moa were fine until humans arrived
2. Climate of Genghis Khans ancient time extends long shadow over Asia of today
3. Ancient herring catch nets fisheries weakness
4. Wasps use ancient aggression genes to create social groups
5. Substance in photosynthesis was at work in ancient, methane-producing microbes
6. Forest emissions, wildfires explain why ancient Earth was so hot
7. Arctic warmth unprecedented in 44,000 years, reveals ancient moss
8. Fossil pigments reveal the colors of ancient sea monsters
9. Ancient sharks reared young in prehistoric river-delta nursery
10. Amber fossil reveals ancient reproduction in flowering plants
11. Ancient fig wasp lived tens of millions of years before figs
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Ancient food webs developed modern structure soon after mass extinction
(Date:1/20/2016)... A market that just keeps on growing. ... explosion in genomics knowledge. Learn all about it in ... of dynamic trends are pushing market growth and company ... pharmacogenomics - pathogen evolution - next generation sequencing - ... understanding of the role of genetic material in Disease ...
(Date:1/20/2016)... JOSE, Calif. , Jan. 20, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... developer of human interface solutions, today announced sampling ... controller solution for wearables and small screen applications ... such as printers. Supporting round and rectangular shapes, ... S1423 offers excellent performance with moisture on screen, ...
(Date:1/15/2016)... SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico , Jan. 15, 2016 ... forcing companies big and small to find new ways ... data driven culture. iOS and ... their device based on biometrics, transforming it into a ... can request that users swipe their fingerprint on their ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:2/10/2016)... 10, 2016  Matchbook, Inc., a company specializing ... biotech companies, announced today the appointment of ... Jim brings nearly 25 years of experience in ... spent nearly two decades in executive level roles ... at Genzyme and, most recently headed global logistics ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... ... 2016 , ... SonaCare Medical, LLC reports the introduction of ... monitoring. The inaugural launch of this new technology occurred over the course of ... to a HIFU technical expert at SonaCare Medical headquarters. , Sonalink allows ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... ... ... Cenna Bioscience Inc., an emerging biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and ... been selected to present at the Cavendish Global Health Impact Forum taking place February ... of the Forum is to help family offices and foundations develop and implement their ...
(Date:2/9/2016)... ... February 08, 2016 , ... ... Baruch S. Blumberg Institute at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County, 3805 ... The Commonwealth Medical College (TCMC) will hold an open house for participants to ...
Breaking Biology Technology: