Researchers have unveiled a groundbreaking study indicating that Earth’s tectonic plate movements have an indirect influence on biodiversity explosions, triggered by 36-million-year cycles of rising and falling sea levels. These geological patterns, spanning back 250 million years, play a pivotal role in shaping the diversity of marine species. A captivating animation demonstrates Earth’s geographical evolution over the past 250 million years, highlighting the intricate interplay between plate tectonics and fluctuations in sea levels. Credit: Paleomap Project and Michael Chin
Tectonic shifts profoundly impact sea levels, fostering the emergence of life.
Scientists have made a momentous discovery, revealing that the movements of Earth’s tectonic plates lead to cyclical changes in sea levels occurring over 36-million-year periods. This mesmerizing phenomenon indirectly triggers bursts of biodiversity, as the alterations in shallow sea and shelf habitats exert a significant influence on the diversity of marine life over millions of years. These findings challenge previous assumptions about the process of species evolution.
Recent research has demonstrated that shifts in Earth’s tectonic plates provoke intermittent bursts of biodiversity every 36 million years by causing fluctuations in sea levels.
A team of researchers, including geoscientists from the University of Sydney, has uncovered the fascinating link between these geologically driven sea level cycles and the diversity of marine species, with evidence spanning at least 250 million years.
As sea levels rise and fall, various habitats on continental shelves and in shallow seas expand and contract, creating favorable conditions for organisms to thrive or perish. By scrutinizing the fossil record, scientists have established that these fluctuations act as triggers for the emergence of new life forms.
The research, led by Associate Professor Slah Boulila from Sorbonne University in Paris, was published on July 10 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A 250 million-year reconstruction of Earth’s geography, illustrating the intricate relationship between plate tectonics and sea level variations. Credit: Paleomap Project and Michael Chin
Professor Dietmar Müller, a co-author of the study from the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney, explained, “The 36-million-year cycle is associated with alternating periods of accelerated and decelerated seafloor spreading, resulting in cyclic changes in ocean basin depths and the transfer of water into the deep Earth through tectonic processes.”
He further elaborated, “These changes, in turn, lead to fluctuations in continental flooding and aridification, with extended periods of shallow seas providing fertile ground for biodiversity.”
The success of this research was made possible by the implementation of the GPlates plate tectonic software, developed by the EarthByte Group at the University of Sydney, with support from Australia’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) via AuScope.
The team based their conclusions on the remarkable discovery of strikingly similar patterns in sea-level variations, Earth’s internal mechanisms, and marine fossil records.
Scientists now possess compelling evidence that tectonic cycles and global sea level changes, driven by Earth’s dynamic forces, have played a pivotal role in shaping the biodiversity of marine life across millions of years.
Professor Müller remarked, “This research challenges previous theories regarding the long-term evolution of species.”
“The 36-million-year cycles persist due to recurring patterns in the recycling of tectonic plates into the convecting mantle, which resembles a slow-moving, simmering soup in a pot.”
He also highlighted the significance of the Cretaceous Winton Formation in Queensland, Australia, as an exemplary case study demonstrating the influence of sea-level changes on ecosystems and biodiversity.
This formation, renowned for its collection of dinosaur fossils and precious opal, offers valuable insights into a time when substantial portions of the Australian continent were submerged.
As sea levels fluctuated, the flooding and receding of the continent created expanding and contracting ecological niches in shallow seas, providing distinctive habitats for a wide array of species.
“The Cretaceous Winton Formation stands as a testament to the profound impact of these sea-level changes, offering a glimpse into an era when Australia’s landscape underwent dramatic transformations, hosting captivating creatures,” Professor Müller affirmed.
Reference: “Earth’s interior dynamics drive marine fossil diversity cycles of tens of millions of years” by Slah Boulila, Shanan E. Peters, R. Dietmar Müller, Bilal U. Haq, and Nathan Hara, 10 July 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about geological cycle
What is the main finding of the research?
The main finding of the research is that Earth’s tectonic plate movements create 36-million-year cycles of rising and falling sea levels, indirectly triggering bursts of biodiversity in marine species.
How do tectonic plate movements influence biodiversity?
Tectonic plate movements cause fluctuations in sea levels, which in turn create changing habitats on continental shelves and shallow seas. These habitat expansions and contractions provide opportunities for organisms to thrive or decline, resulting in bursts of biodiversity.
How far back do these geological cycles date?
These geological cycles can be traced back at least 250 million years, showcasing their long-term influence on marine species diversity.
What challenges do these findings pose to previous notions of species evolution?
These findings challenge previous assumptions about the mechanisms behind species evolution. They suggest that the 36-million-year cycles driven by tectonic plate movements and sea level changes play a crucial role in shaping the biodiversity of marine life over millions of years, highlighting the significance of geological factors in species evolution.
What is the significance of the Cretaceous Winton Formation mentioned in the text?
The Cretaceous Winton Formation in Queensland, Australia, serves as a notable example of how sea-level changes have shaped ecosystems and influenced biodiversity. The flooding and receding of the continent during different sea-level phases created expanding and contracting ecological niches in shallow seas, providing unique habitats for a diverse range of species.
More about geological cycle
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Earth’s interior dynamics drive marine fossil diversity cycles of tens of millions of years
- Paleomap Project: Geography of Earth Animation
- University of Sydney: GPlates Plate Tectonic Software
- Sorbonne University: Faculty Profile of Associate Professor Slah Boulila
- University of Sydney: School of Geosciences