Palaeobiology and Mass extinctions
Dr. William J. Foster
Shallow marine ecosystems are among the most biologically diverse and economically important on the planet and are in danger of being irreversibly altered into a deteriorated state1. Ecological research can provide data about biotic responses on short timescales but cannot assess longer timescales. The fossil record, however, provides the only record of long-term biotic responses from disturbances and information on ecosystem re-establishment, which is now a priority for the IPCC which is now explicitly considering historical and palaeontological findings.
This research group primarily focusses on quantitatively investigating and integrating high resolution records of environmental and ecological changes for deep time climate crises. This includes:
- Paleontological investigations to understand ecological changes of marine ecosystems associated with the consequences of climate change and extinction.
- Lipid biomarker investigations to understand ecological changes associated with prokaryote communities and how these can be inferred to reconstruct environmental changes.
- Inorganic geochemical proxies as independent representations of environmental change.
- The integration of data science and statistical methods to quantify environmental and ecological changes in the rock record.
Currently the focus of this group is the Permo-Triassic climate crisis, which caused the most catastrophic extinction of marine life with an estimated species loss of 81-95%2 and coincides with one of the most extreme climate warming events ever3. To better understand the role of environmental changes on marine communities during the Permo-Triassic crisis – and thus for the future - the quantitative integration of independent proxies for environmental changes (i.e., geochemical proxies) and the fossil record is required. This Emmy Noether research group will fill this gap in knowledge by collecting new, comprehensive geochemical and palaeoecological datasets that can be quantitatively integrated to investigate the direct responses of marine ecosystems to specific environmental changes. The integration of the geochemical and body fossil records through the Permo-Triassic crisis will provide novel insights into climate-ecosystem feedbacks during major and rapid climate warming, and will be the first to (1) statistically investigate the relationship between the body fossil and geochemical records; (2) reconstruct the environmental controls on the collapse, ecological structure and composition of marine ecosystems; and (3) will elucidate to how climate change at a high rate and magnitude directly affects marine ecosystems. Furthermore, by simultaneously investigating multiple datasets and factors, using multivariate statistical rigour, this project will identify the key environmental changes driving the Permo-Triassic crisis, which will allow a significant advancement in our understanding on the main causes of the Permo-Triassic crisis.
The research is funded by the Emmy Noether Programme of the "Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft" (DFG).
1 Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Jacob, D., Taylor, M., Bolaños, T.G., Bindi, M., Brown, S., Camilloni, I.A., Diedhiou, A., Djalante, R., Ebi, K. and Engelbrecht, F., 2019. The human imperative of stabilizing global climate change at 1.5°C. Science 365, 1-11.
2 Stanley, S.M., 2016. Estimates of the magnitudes of major marine mass extinctions in earth history. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, E6325-E6334.
3 Kemp, D.B., Eichenseer, K. and Kiessling, W., 2015. Maximum rates of climate change are systematically underestimated in the geological record. Nature Communications, 6, 1-6.