Research ArticleOCEANOGRAPHY

Algal plankton turn to hunting to survive and recover from end-Cretaceous impact darkness

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  30 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 44, eabc9123
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc9123


The end-Cretaceous bolide impact triggered the devastation of marine ecosystems. However, the specific kill mechanism(s) are still debated, and how primary production subsequently recovered remains elusive. We used marine plankton microfossils and eco-evolutionary modeling to determine strategies for survival and recovery, finding that widespread phagotrophy (prey ingestion) was fundamental to plankton surviving the impact and also for the subsequent reestablishment of primary production. Ecological selectivity points to extreme post-impact light inhibition as the principal kill mechanism, with the marine food chain temporarily reset to a bacteria-dominated state. Subsequently, in a sunlit ocean inhabited by only rare survivor grazers but abundant small prey, it was mixotrophic nutrition (autotrophy and heterotrophy) and increasing cell sizes that enabled the eventual reestablishment of marine food webs some 2 million years later.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances