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Ecological and evolutionary significance of size in planktic protists

English title Ecological and evolutionary significance of size in planktic protists
Applicant Thierstein Hans R.
Number 118045
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Geologisches Institut ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Palaeontology
Start/End 01.10.2007 - 30.09.2011
Approved amount 380'950.00
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Keywords (15)

Evolution of protists; Molecular genetics; Paleoceanography; genetics of marine plankton species; test size; macro-ecology; macro-evolution; coccolithophores; diatoms; radiolaria; marine plankton; ecology; evolution; size variability;

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
We (1) continue our study of the size variability of the major shell-forming oceanic plankton groups today and in the geologic past and (2) attempt to link relevant form characters (size and shape) of these shells to the genetic make-up of species and morphotypes living today, and (3) test for the response of the marine plankton to the last global warm period (late Pliocene, ca. 3 million years ago), which may be considered an analog to the future high pCO2 warm climate world. Carbonate and siliceous deposits found at the bottom of the world's oceans represent the major sinks for carbon and silica being added continuously to the global ocean by continental weathering processes. These deposits consist largely of the shells of phytoplankton (calcitic coccoliths and opaline diatoms) and single-celled zooplankton (calcitic foraminifera and opaline radiolarians). These sinks are thus influenced by global climate and tectonics (via ocean circulation, continental weathering and erosion), and by the oceanic biosphere, which drives mineralization and deposition of calcitic and opaline shells. The fact that both, climate and the oceanic plankton groups have undergone significant and quantifiable change through time, makes deep sea deposits and their fossil biota an ideal study object for the reconstruction of interactions and interrelationships between a dominant part of the global biosphere (plankton) and global change (climate, weathering and ocean circulation).With our past development of automated microscopy we are now in a unique position to gather efficiently quantitative data of changes in form (size and shape) of the hard parts of thousands of individual living and fossil plankton cells contained in deep-sea sediments. In addition we have recently developped techniques to extract genetic information from plankton filters, that we have analysed previously for their microfossil content. We plan to apply our knowledge of macro-ecological (size) and micro-ecological (shape and genetics) information of today's organisms to the past, specifically to the last global warm period (Pliocene, about 3 Million years ago), which may be the youngest geological analog to the future state of the world when affected by human-induced global warming. In general our research will contribute to a better understanding of some fundamental questions of the interrelationship between natural global changes and the behavior of an important part of the organismic world on short-term (ecological) and long-term (evolutionary) time-scales.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
121331 AquaProbe: from Monitoring towards Understanding, Predicting and Managing Plankton in changing Aquatic Ecosystems 01.07.2008 R'EQUIP
109639 Ecological and evolutionary significance of size in planktic protists 01.10.2005 Project funding