Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Killer Algae: Key Player In Mass Extinctions

Date:
October 20, 2009
Source:
Geological Society of America
Summary:
Supervolcanoes and cosmic impacts get all the terrible glory for causing mass extinctions, but a new theory suggests lowly algae may be the killer behind the world's great species annihilations.

Pond covered with algae.
Credit: iStockphoto

Supervolcanoes and cosmic impacts get all the terrible glory for causing mass extinctions, but a new theory suggests lowly algae may be the killer behind the world's great species annihilations.

Related Articles


Today, just about anywhere there is water, there can be toxic algae. The microscopic plants usually exist in small concentrations, but a sudden warming in the water or an injection of dust or sediment from land can trigger a bloom that kills thousands of fish, poisons shellfish, or even humans.

James Castle and John Rodgers of Clemson University think the same thing happened during the five largest mass extinctions in Earth's history. Each time a large die off occurred, they found a spike in the number of fossil algae mats called stromatolites strewn around the planet. Castle will be presenting the research on October 19 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Oregon.

"If you go through theories of mass extinctions, there are always some unanswered questions," Castle said. "For example, an impact – how does that cause species to go extinct? Is it climate change, dust in the atmosphere? It's probably not going to kill off all these species on its own."

But as the nutrient-rich fallout from the disaster lands in the water, it becomes food for algae. They explode in population, releasing chemicals that can act as anything from skin irritants to potent neurotoxins. Plants on land can pick up the compounds in their roots, and pass them on to herbivorous animals.

If the theory is right, it answers a lot of questions about how species died off in the ancient world. It also raises concerns for how today's algae may damage the ecosystem in a warmer world.

"Algae growth is favored by warmer temperatures," Castle said. "You get accelerated metabolism and reproduction of these organisms, and the effect appears to be enhanced for species of toxin-producing cyanobacteria."

He added that toxic algae in the United States appear to be migrating slowly northward through the country's ponds and lakes, and along the coast as temperatures creep upward. Their expanding range portends a host of problems for fish and wildlife, but also for humans, as algae increasingly invade reservoirs and other sources of drinking water.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Geological Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Castle et al. Hypothesis for the role of toxin-producing algae in Phanerozoic mass extinctions based on evidence from the geologic record and modern environments. Environmental Geosciences, 2009; 16 (1): 1 DOI: 10.1306/eg.08110808003

Cite This Page:

Geological Society of America. "Killer Algae: Key Player In Mass Extinctions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091019134716.htm>.
Geological Society of America. (2009, October 20). Killer Algae: Key Player In Mass Extinctions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 3, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091019134716.htm
Geological Society of America. "Killer Algae: Key Player In Mass Extinctions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091019134716.htm (accessed March 3, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

500 Snakes Surprise Construction Workers In Canada

500 Snakes Surprise Construction Workers In Canada

Newsy (Mar. 2, 2015) Hundreds of snakes, disturbed by a construction project, were relocated to a wildlife rescue association in Canada. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Going Gluten-Free Could Get You A Tax Break

Going Gluten-Free Could Get You A Tax Break

Newsy (Mar. 2, 2015) If a doctor advises you to remove gluten from your diet, you could get a tax deduction on the amount you spend on gluten-free foods. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Zookeepers Copy Animal Poses In Hilarious Viral Photos

Zookeepers Copy Animal Poses In Hilarious Viral Photos

Buzz60 (Mar. 2, 2015) Zookeepers at the Symbio Wildlife Park in Helensburgh, Australia decided to take some of their favorite animal photos and recreate them by posing just like the animals. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Heavy Toll as Australian Farmers Struggle Through Drought

Heavy Toll as Australian Farmers Struggle Through Drought

AFP (Mar. 2, 2015) Mounting debts, despair and forced repossessions are taking a heavy toll on farmers in parts of Australia suffering from its worst drought in 100 years. Duration: 02:16 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins