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Title: Breathless through Time: Oxygen and Animals across Earth’s History
Oxygen levels in the atmosphere and ocean have changed dramatically over Earth history, with major impacts on marine life. Because the early part of Earth’s history lacked both atmospheric oxygen and animals, a persistent co-evolutionary narrative has developed linking oxygen change with changes in animal diversity. Although it was long believed that oxygen rose to essentially modern levels around the Cambrian period, a more muted increase is now believed likely. Thus, if oxygen increase facilitated the Cambrian explosion, it did so by crossing critical ecological thresholds at low O2. Atmospheric oxygen likely remained at low or moderate levels through the early Paleozoic era, and this likely contributed to high metazoan extinction rates until oxygen finally rose to modern levels in the later Paleozoic. After this point, ocean deoxygenation (and marine mass extinctions) is increasingly linked to large igneous province eruptions—massive volcanic carbon inputs to the Earth system that caused global warming, ocean acidification, and oxygen loss. Although the timescales of these ancient events limit their utility as exact analogs for modern anthropogenic global change, the clear message from the geologic record is that large and rapid CO2 injections into the Earth system consistently cause the same deadly trio of stressors that are observed today. The next frontier in understanding the impact of oxygen changes (or, more broadly, temperature-dependent hypoxia) in deep time requires approaches from ecophysiology that will help conservation biologists better calibrate the response of the biosphere at large taxonomic, spatial, and temporal scales.  more » « less
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Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
University of Chicago Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Biological Bulletin
Page Range / eLocation ID:
184 to 206
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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