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January 5, 2023

Ancient Marine Food Webs

Researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas have compared the trophic networks of four ancient reef ecosystems with a reef of today.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

Ancient Marine Food Webs

Some people claim that ocean food webs have seen very little change over the last 540 million years. We'll explore how ecosystems respond to climate change in the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

The interaction between organisms and the physical environment is fundamental to how we define an ecosystem. The stressors either bring greatly impact the other. It is said that there are now no ecosystems left on this planet that haven't been altered by human activity.

NSF supported researchers at University of Nevada, Las Vegas have taken fossil data to compare the trophic, or feeding and nutrition, networks of four ancient ecosystems. These were compared to a modern Jamaican reef community to have a better understanding of ecosystem change over time.

The researchers did not find a consistency across the ages studied, nor did they find a directional change toward a more modern ecosystem structure across the Mesozoic Era. The modern reef is most like the Bathonian age rather than the more recent Aptian, which is most like the Anisian age, the oldest of the study. This tells us the trophic structure is determined by several interacting factors including primary production, functional diversity, and size distributions of consumers.

Results from this study point to a need for better understanding of trophic structure when planning restoration activities. Species conservation alone is not a solution to biodiversity loss, a broader understanding must be in place to have effective conservation efforts.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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