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Taking evolution's temperature: Researchers pinpoint the energy it takes to make a species

ging from the tropics to the arctic. The results agreed closely with predictions of their model.

"It takes more energy than all the fossil fuel people burn on the planet in a year to form one new species of plankton," said Andrew Allen, Ph.D., the study's lead researcher at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "In terms of conservation, this really highlights that biodiversity does have a price, and the price is very high."

To put a number on it, it takes about 10 to the 23rd power - that is a 1 followed by 23 zeros - of energy units called joules to generate a new species of foraminifera plankton.

"From a scientific perspective, we can now quantify biodiversity in terms of energy," Allen said. "This will help efforts to identify and model areas for protection and conservation."

By observing changes in a unicellular animal whose body temperature varies according to its surroundings, as opposed to a mammal, which regulates a constant body temperature, scientists could more precisely measure rates of speciation caused by the environment. In the end, it is individual metabolic rate - how fast an organism burns food relative to its body weight - that primarily determines evolutionary rate. And higher environmental temperatures help increase metabolism.

"Diversity is the hallmark of the living. Understanding the principles underlying the generation and maintenance of diversity will allow us to understand life, and also how to preserve it," said Pablo Marquet, Ph.D., an associate professor and member of the Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, who was not involved in the research. "Changes in our environment, such as global warming, will not only affect the way the ecosystem functions, but also how life will evolve and hence how diversity is distributed across the planet."

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Contact: John Pastor
jpastor@vpha.health.ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
31-May-2006


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