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The biology of impact craters – a review

  • CHARLES S. COCKELL (a1) and PASCAL LEE (a2)
Abstract

Impact craters contain ecosystems that are often very different from the ecosystems that surround them. On Earth over 150 impact craters have been identified in a wide diversity of biomes. All natural events that can cause localized disruption of ecosystems have quite distinct patterns of recovery. Impact events are unique in that they are the only extraterrestrial mechanism capable of disrupting an ecosystem locally in space and time. Thus, elucidating the chronological sequence of change at the sites of impacts is of ecological interest. In this synthetic review we use the existing literature, coupled with our own observations at the Haughton impact structure, Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada to consider the patterns of biological recovery at the site of impact craters and the ecological characteristics of impact craters. Three phases of recovery are suggested. The Phase of Thermal Biology, a phase associated with the localized, ephemeral thermal anomaly generated by an impact event. The Phase of Impact Succession and Climax, a phase marked by multiple primary and secondary succession events both in the aquatic realm (impact crater-lakes) and terrestrial realm (colonization of paleolacustrine deposits and impact-generated substrata) that are followed by periods of climax ecology. In the case of large-scale impact events (> 104 Mt), this latter phase may also be influenced by successional changes in the global environment. Finally, during the Phase of Ecological Assimilation, the disappearance of the surface geological expression of an impact structure results in a concomitant loss of ecological distinctiveness. In extreme cases, the impact structure is buried. Impact succession displays similarities and differences to succession following other agents of ecological disturbance, particularly volcanism.

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Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Charles S. Cockell, British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 OET, UK. Tel: 01223 221560; Fax: 01223 411722; e-mail: csco@bas.ac.uk
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Biological Reviews
  • ISSN: 1464-7931
  • EISSN: 1469-185X
  • URL: /core/journals/biological-reviews
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