Date: February 28, 2017
Source: University of Florida
A University of Florida study shows that mollusk fossils provide a reliable measure of human-driven changes in marine ecosystems and shifts in ocean biodiversity across time and space. Collecting data from the shells of dead mollusks is a low-cost, low-impact way of glimpsing how oceans looked before pollution, habitat loss, acidification and explosive algae growth threatened marine life worldwide. Mollusk fossils can inform current and future conservation and restoration efforts, said Michal Kowalewski, the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and the study's principal investigator. "These fossils are like marine time machines that can unveil bygone habitats that existed before humans altered them," he said. "Shells can help us understand past marine life and more precisely gauge recent changes in marine ecosystems. Fossils are the only direct way of learning what these ecosystems looked like before human activities altered them." Because mollusks, such as conchs, oysters and mussels, are abundant and often have sturdy shells, their remains litter much of Earth's sea floor. These mollusk graveyards offer a treasure trove of information about the state of oceans over thousands of years, recording patterns in the diversity and distribution of marine animals across and within habitats with surprising accuracy, said Carrie Tyler, who conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher at the museum and is now an assistant professor of invertebrate paleontology at the Miami University of Ohio.