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Did phosphorus trigger complex evolution -- and blue skies?
Date:5/10/2010

time intervals is marked by the earliest fossils of multi-celled organisms and climaxed with the spectacular increase of fossil diversity known as the "Cambrian Explosion."

Papineau found that these phases of atmospheric change corresponded with abundant phosphate deposits, as well as evidence for continental rifting and extensive glacial deposits. He notes that both rifting and climate changes would have changed patterns of erosion and chemical weathering of the land surface, which would have caused more phosphorous to wash into the oceans. Over geologic timescales the effect on marine life, he says, would have been analogous to that of high-phosphorus fertilizers washed into bodies of water today, such as the Chesapeake Bay, where massive algal blooms have had a widespread impact.

"Today, this is happening very fast and is caused by us," he says, "and the glut of organic matter actually consumes oxygen. But during the Proterozoic this occurred over timescales of hundreds of millions of years and progressively led to an oxygenated atmosphere."

"This increased oxygen no doubt had major consequences for the evolution of complex life. It can be expected that modern changes will also strongly perturb evolution," he adds. "However, new lineages of complex life-forms take millions to tens of millions of years to adapt. In the meantime, we may be facing significant extinctions from the quick changes we are causing."


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Contact: Dominic Papineau
dpapineau@ciw.edu
202-478-8908
Carnegie Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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