Bivalves reveal big picture of climate change

Mar 27, 2019 at 3:00pm

Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

Climate change has always left its footprint on land and in the seas where bivalves such as mussels, scallops, oysters have lived for millions of years. Their limited mobility has been to their disadvantage resulting in most of them dying in the on-site whenever major unpleasant changes occurred in their environment...

"The upside of this is that their way of living resulted in a rich fossil record that informs us about the extinction rate of marine invertebrates when faced with climate change. And as these lineages have been around millions upon millions of years, they have certainly experienced a lot of extinctions," says Dr. Shan Huang, researcher at the German Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre.

It turned out, that the extinctions of bivalves in the Cenozoic were mostly related to how fast climatic changed. "We saw two patterns. If the temperature changed rapidly during a geologic time bin (i.e. stages, mostly spanning around 2 million years), more bivalve genera went extinct. In addition, climate change at a larger time scale also played a role. More bivalves went extinct when temperature changed more from one to the next time bin," explains Huang.

In sum the study suggests that rapid temperature change may lead to higher extinction rates of biodiversity. Most at risk would be genera which live at higher latitudes. However, there is no perfect analog in the past for today's oceans which have been impacted heavily by human activity and suffer from pollution and overfishing.

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