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BIO330H5 Lecture Notes - Cambrian Explosion, Continental Drift, Sirius Passet

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Chapter 21- The History of Life on Earth
Text Book & Lecture Slide Combined
21.1-How Do Scientists Date Ancient Events?
Fossils- the preserved remains of ancient organisms
Paleontologists- scientists who study fossils
Morphology- the body form
Age of rocks cannot be determined by just looking at them, but the age of rocks can only be determined when comparing one
Strata- oldest layers in rocks; are known to lie at the bottom, and successively higher strata are progressively younger
William Smith concluded that:
o Fossils of similar organisms were found in widely separated places on Earth
o Certain organisms were always found in younger rocks than certain other organisms
o Organisms found in higher, more recent strata were more similar to modern organisms than were those found in
lower, more ancient strata
Radioactivity- a method of dating rocks; discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century
Half-Life- a successive time interval in which half of the remaining radioactive material of the radioisotope decays, either
changing into another element or becoming the stable isotope of the same element
For 14C, production in the upper atmosphere is about equal to its natural decay.
In an organism, the ratio of 14C to 12C stays constant during its lifetime.
When an organism dies, it is no longer incorporating 14C from the environment.
The 14C that was present in the body decays with no replacement and the ratio of 14C to 12C decreases.
As soon as an organism dies, it ceases to exchange carbon compounds with its environment
Isotopes in a sedimentary rock do not contain reliable information about the date of its formation
o Since they are transported over long distances and are deposed in another location
But igneous rocks (e.g., lava or volcanic ash), that have intruded into layers of sedimentary rock can be dated.
Other radioisotopes are used to date older rocks.
Decay of potassium-40 to argon-40 is used for the most ancient rocks.
Radioisotope dating is combined with fossil analysis.
21.2- How have Earth’s Continents and Climates Changed over Time?
Lithosphere- is Earth’s crust which consists of a number of solid plates each about 40 kilometers thick
o Floats on a fluid layer of molten rock or magma; the magma circulates because heat produced by radioactive
decay deep in Earth’s core sets up convection currents in the fluid
The plates move because magma rises and exerts tremendous pressure
Where plates are pushed together, either they move sideways past each other, or one plate slides under the other, pushing up
mountain ranges and carving deep rift valleys (when they occur under water, such valleys are known as trenches)
Where plates are pushed apart, ocean basins may form between them
Continental Drift- movement of the lithospheric plates and the continents they contain
Throughout Earth’s history, the plates that carry the continents have drifted apart and moved back together numerous
Plate movement has affected climate, sea level, and the distribution of organisms.
Increase of Oxygen in Atmosphere
Increase in atmospheric oxygen have been largely unidirectional
Oxygen first in atmosphere 3.8 bya (billion years ago)
Oxygen concentrations began to increase significantly about 2.4 billion years ago when some prokaryotes evolved the ability
to split water as a source of hydrogen ions for photosynthesis. The waste product is O2.
One lineage of these oxygen-generating bacteria evolved into the cyanobacteria. These organisms formed rocklike structures
called stromatolites.
The cyanobacteria liberated enough O2 to allow the evolution of oxidation reactions as the energy source for the synthesis of
When oxygen first appeared in the atmosphere, it was poisonous to the anaerobic prokaryotes that inhabited Earth at the
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Organisms with aerobic metabolism replaced anaerobes in most of Earth’s environments
As life continued to evolve, the physical nature of the planet was irrevocably changed.
Living organisms added O2 to the atmosphere & removed CO2 from it.
An atmosphere rich in O2 made possible the evolution of larger cells and more complex organisms.
About 1,500 mya (million years ago), O2 concentrations became high enough for large eukaryotic cells to flourish and
By 750700 mya, O2 had increased to levels that could support multicellular organisms.
To the largely unidirectional change in atmospheric oxygen concentration, most physical conditions on Earth have oscillated in
response to the planet’s internal processes, such as volcanic activity, continental drift and meteorite impacts
Extraterrestrial events such as collisions with meteorites, have also left their mark causing mass extinctions
Mass Extinctions- during which a large proportion of the species living at the time disappeared
Earth’s Climate Change
For Earth to be in a cold, dry state, atmospheric CO2 levels had to have been usually low
Weather changes rapidly; climates usually change slowly
Most volcanic eruptions produce only local or short-lived effects, but a few very large volcanic eruptions have had major
consequences for life
The collision of continents during the late Permian (about 275 mya) created a single, giant land mass called Pangaea and
caused massive volcanic eruptions.
Ash from the eruptions reduced the penetration of sunlight to Earth’s surface, lowering temperatures, reducing
photosynthesis, and triggering massive glaciations
Massive volcanic eruptions also occurred as the continents drifted apart during the late Triassic period and at the end of the
Extraterrestrial Events
The first impact to be documented: meteorite 10 km in diameter that caused a mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous.
Abnormally high concentrations of iridium in a thin layer separating the Cretaceous and Tertiary rocks were found.
Iridium very rare on Earth, abundant in some meteorites.
180-km-diameter crater buried beneath the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico discovered
Iridium layer = meteorite impact
21.3- What Are the Major Events in Life’s History?
Life first evolved 3.8 billion years ago; about 1.5 billion years ago, eukaryotic organisms had evolved
Biota- all of the organisms-animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms- found in a given area
Flora- all of the plants found in a given area
Fauna- all of the animals found in a given area
Fossils are a major source of information about changes on Earth during the remote past.
Periods of geological history are marked by mass extinctions or by dramatic increases in diversity called evolutionary
Evidence suggests that the major divisions in many animal lineages predate the end of the Precambrian by more than 100
million years.
Although the fossil record is fragmentary before 550 mya, it is still good enough to show that the total number of species and
individuals increased dramatically in late Precambrian times.
The fossil record, though incomplete, is good enough to demonstrate clearly that organisms of particular types are found in
rocks of specific ages and that newer organisms appear sequentially in younger rocks
An organism is most likely to become a fossil if its dead body is deposited in an environment that lacks oxygen.
About 300,000 species of fossil organisms have been described.
1.7 million species of present-day biota have been named.
The actual number of living species is probably at least 10 million.
Most species exist, on average, for fewer than 10 million years; therefore, Earth’s species must have turned over many
times during geological history.
Among the nine major animal groups with hard-shelled members, approximately 200,000 species have been described
from fossils.
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