How do the skeletons of marine animals change with habitat and environmental conditions?
External skeletons, in the form of calcium carbonate shells are found predominantly in molluscs and brachiopods (marine organisms that look like they should be molluscs, but are actually only distantly related). These shells provide support for the animals’ internal organs, and also protect internal tissues from the external environment, potential diseases and, on particular predators. Any change in the thickness or crystalline structure of the shell can therefore have serious consequences for the animal inside. We also look in some detail at the incremental growth patterns that are preserved in bivalves and brachiopods. How has the extreme seasonality in polar climates influenced the composition of marine communities?
Understanding how the external skeleton changes in response to environmental pressures is helping us predict how a major part of the marine ecosystem (molluscs make up 23% of all marine species) will fare under climate change. Our investigations will also focus on brachiopods as they are very diverse, found all over the globe and are very well represented in fossil records.
Hence we can use brachiopods to examine changes in shell structure not only across geographic regions, but also through time. We can then relate these findings to past climate records and ancient sea conditions. Our investigations of molluscs and brachiopods encompass samples from the tropics to both poles and thus contributes to the BAS Grand Challenges on Polar Change and Earth to the Poles.
This is a mulitdisciplinary project in which we are building up our knowledege on shell dynamics in space and time via several different projects and funding streams.