Early Cambrian food webs on a trophic knife-edge? A hypothesis and preliminary data from a modern stromatolite-based ecosystem.

James Elser, James Watts, John H. Schampel, Jack Farmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Here we use the theory of ecological stoichiometry to propose and provide a preliminary test of a novel hypothesis that the Cambrian 'explosion' may have been triggered by changes in circulating P availability in the biosphere. We exposed living stromatolites from a spring-fed stream in Mexico to a gradient of P enrichment to examine subsequent effects on stromatolite C : P ratio and on the primary grazer, an endemic snail. Consistent with a previously hypothesized stoichiometric 'knife-edge', snail performance was maximal at intermediate P-enrichment, indicating in situ stoichiometric constraints because of high stromatolite C : P ratio along with high sensitivity to excessive P intake. These results are consistent with the idea that stoichiometric constraints may have delayed the evolutionary proliferation of animals in ancient stromatolite-dominated ecosystems and also suggest that high food P content can significantly impair consumers. We propose that ecosystem P availability may have impacted both the expansion and decline of animal taxa in the history of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-303
Number of pages9
JournalEcology Letters
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2006

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stromatolite
knives
food webs
snails
food web
snail
ecosystems
ecosystem
explosions
stoichiometry
animals
animal
Mexico
life history
biosphere
explosion
food
testing
history

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology

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Early Cambrian food webs on a trophic knife-edge? A hypothesis and preliminary data from a modern stromatolite-based ecosystem. / Elser, James; Watts, James; Schampel, John H.; Farmer, Jack.

In: Ecology Letters, Vol. 9, No. 3, 03.2006, p. 295-303.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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