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Seafood through time: changes in biomass, energetics, and productivity in the marine ecosystem

  • Richard K. Bambach (a1)


The biomass of marine consumers increased during the Phanerozoic. This is indicated by the increase in both fleshiness and average size of individuals of dominant organisms, coupled with the conservative estimate that dominant organisms in the Cenozoic are at least as abundant as those in the Paleozoic. As faunal dominants replaced one another during the Phanerozoic the general level of metabolic activity increased due to both increase in basal metabolism and increase in more energetic modes of life. This demonstrates that the expenditure of energy by marine consumers has increased with time as well. There is a time lag in the expansion of more energetic life habits from environmental settings known to have high food supply into regions expected to have lower rates of food supply (e.g., bivalves into offshore carbonate environments or deep burrowing deposit feeders into the full range of shelf environments), and a time lag in diversification of energetic modes of life (e.g., predation or deep burrowing deposit feeding) for long intervals after they first appeared. This suggests that the supply of food increased across the whole spectrum of marine habitats during the Phanerozoic. The great diversification of specialized predators especially suggests that biomass increase took place all the way down the food chain to the level of primary production. The development of plant life on land and the impact of land vegetation on stimulating productivity in coastal marine settings, coupled with the transfer of organic material and nutrients from coastal regions to the open ocean, and the increase through time in diversity and abundance of oceanic phytoplankton all point to increased productivity in the oceans through the Phanerozoic.



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