Researchers at the University of California have found that algae have learned to hunt in order to survive after the asteroid hits Earth. They were one of the few species that helped rebuild the food chain.
The scientists explained that one of the few species that survived the asteroid’s impact were tiny plants that live in the ocean. The researchers found out that their adaptation and behavior change led to this – they began to eat other living things. Experts note that this is surprising, given that as a result of the disaster that occurred 66 million years ago, a huge amount of debris, soot and other substances entered the atmosphere; this cooled the climate and changed the composition of the oceans.
A team of scientists, including researchers from the University of California, wanted to understand how these algae managed to survive while the rest of the species died in the disaster. To answer the questions, the team examined well-preserved fossils of surviving algae and created detailed computer models to reveal the likely evolution of algal feeding habits.
The researchers were lucky enough to find nanoscale fossils. They were found in rapidly accumulating and highly clayey sediments, which helped to keep them in good shape.
Simulations have shown that algae have learned to hunt to survive. High-resolution scanning electron microscope images covering fossil nanoplankton cells highlight holes that allowed flagella and haptoneme to exit the cell and suck food particles into it.
The modern-day relatives of ancient algae also have chloroplasts, which allow sunlight to be used to cook food from carbon dioxide and water. Scientists call this ability to survive both by feeding on other organisms and by photosynthesis as mixotrophy.
Scientists found that after the darkness cleared, these mixotrophic algae spread from coastal shelves to the open ocean, where they became the dominant life form for the next million years, helping to quickly restore the food chain.