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Whales & Diatoms

March 18, 2010

The diversity of ocean algae has correlated with the diversity of whale species over the past 30 million years.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
The whale-algae connection. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s well known that top predators depend on creatures at the bottom of the food chain. But a new study, by researchers in Virginia and New Zealand, puts this in high relief. George Mason University vertebrate paleontologist Mark Uhen and his colleagues analyzed 30 million years’ worth of fossil records. They found that over all that time, the diversity of whale species has been closely tied to the diversity of marine algae called diatoms, which suggests that it probably still is.

MARK UHEN (George Mason University):
If diatom diversity were to go down, due to say, climate change, or ecological concerns of any other sort, like pollution, we would expect the number of whales to go down as well.

HIRSHON:
He adds that the correlation held even for whales that eat larger prey – suggesting that the entire food web can be shaken up by its humblest members. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.