Faculty of Biological Sciences

Research Bulletin

Research reveals contrasting consequences of a warmer Earth

4th September 2012

Analysis of fossil and geological records going back 540 million years suggests that biodiversity on Earth generally increases as the planet warms.

But the research says that the increase in biodiversity depends on the evolution of new species over millions of years, and is normally accompanied by extinctions of existing species. The researchers, from the Universities of York, Glasgow and Leeds, suggest that present trends of increasing temperature are unlikely to boost global biodiversity in the short term because of the long timescales necessary for new forms to evolve. Instead, the speed of current change is expected to cause diversity loss.

The study which is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) says that while warm periods in the geological past experienced increased extinctions, they also promoted the origination of new species, increasing overall biodiversity.

The new research is a refinement of an earlier study that analysed biodiversity over the same time interval, but with a less sophisticated data set, and concluded that a warming climate led to drops in overall diversity. Using the improved data that are now available, the researchers re-examined patterns of marine invertebrate biodiversity over the last 540 million years.

Lead author, Dr Peter Mayhew, of the Department of Biology at York, said: "The improved data give us a more secure picture of the impact of warmer temperatures on marine biodiversity and they show that, as before, there is more extinction and origination in warm geological periods. But, overall, warm climates seem to boost biodiversity in the very long run, rather than reducing it."

Dr Alistair McGowan, of the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow said: "The previous findings always seemed paradoxical. Ecological studies show that species richness consistently increases towards the Equator, where it is warm, yet the relationship between biodiversity and temperature through time appeared to be the opposite. Our new results reverse these conclusions and bring them into line with the ecological pattern."

Professor Tim Benton, of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds, added: "Science progresses by constantly re-examining conclusions in the light of better data. Our results seem to show that temperature improves biodiversity through time as well as across space. However, they do not suggest that current global warming is good for existing species. Increases in global diversity take millions of years, and in the meantime we expect extinctions to occur."


Recent Grants

Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haematology, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2015), £700,521

Sheena Radford, Mark Harris, Peter Stockley, Alan Berry, Alex O'Neill, Thomas Edwards, Adrian Goldman, Anastasia Zhuravleva, Wellcome Trust (Jan 2015), £443,015

Bill Kunin, EU (Jan 2015), £157,490

John Colyer, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Fund (Jan 2015), £40,000

Chris Hassall, Royal Society (Dec 2014), £14,500

Ryan Seipke, Royal Society (Nov 2014), £13,700

Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £749,865

Ian Hope, Marie-Anne Shaw, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £396,565

Alison Ashcroft, Peter Stckley, Sheena Radford, Nic Stonehouse, David Brockwell, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £340,937

Les Firbank, Joe Holden, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £210,302

Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Chemistry and Pathology, anatomy and Tumour Biology, Dr Hadwen Trusy (Oct 2014), £194,475

Paul Knox, EU (Oct 2014), £167,229

Martin Stacey and colleagues in Medicine & Health, Pfizer (Oct 2014), £90,453

Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Experimental Oncology, YCR (Oct 2014), £69,480

Andrew Macdonald, Jamel Mankouri, Kidney Research Fund UK (Oct 2014), £58,878

Mike McPherson and colleagues in Dentistry and Engineering, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £58,437

Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haemotology, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Sep 2014), £281,424

Emmanuel Paci and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £636,759

Andrew Peel, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £371,598

Lars Jeuken, Stephen Evans, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £333,684

Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £313,463

Michelle Peckham, Mark Harris, Rao Sivaprasadarao, Eileen Ingham, Nic Stonehouse, Nikita Gamper, Wellcome Trust (Sep 2014), £192,763

Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Aug 2014), £355,253

Stuart Egginton, BHF (Aug 2014), £271,094

Darren Tomlinson, Mike McPherson, Technology Strategy Board (Aug 2014), £98,665

Peter Henderson, Leverhulme Trust (Aug 2014), £15,222

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in the School of Chemistry), EPSRC (Jul 2014), £819,880

Peter Stockley, Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Jul 2014), £455,787

Sheena Radford, Univesity of Michigan (Jul 2014), £138,452

Ryan Seipke, British Society Antimicrobial Chemistry (Jun 2014), £11,960

John Trinick, BHF (Jun 2014), £222,614

Chris West, Leverhulme Trust (Jun 2014), £181,241

Jon Lippiat, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (May 2014), £125,174

Christine Foyer, Royal Society (May 2014), £24,000

David Brockwell, Sheena Radford, Medimmune Ltd (Apr 2014), £337,661

Peter Stockley, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £251,019

Mike McPherson, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £146,596

Andrew Macdonald, Kidney Research Fund UK (Apr 2014), £127,237

Elwyn Isaac, DEFRA (Apr 2014), £126,512

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in School of Design), Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £114,350

Paul Millner, Peter Stockley, Darren Tomlinson, YCR (Apr 2014), £95,874

Carrie Ferguson, Karen Birch, Shaunna Burke, Heart Research UK (Apr 2014), £60,140

Tim Benton, Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £24,969

Bill Kunin, Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £21,244

Dave Westhead, MRC (Apr 2014), £18,304

Recent
News

FBS Researchers volunteer to fight Ebola

17th February 2015

Four University of Leeds researchers have volunteered to fight the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone.


FBS Researchers discover viral code

4th February 2015

Researchers have cracked a code that governs infections by a major group of viruses including the common cold and polio.


Stroke damage mechanism identified

30th January 2015

FBS Researchers have discovered a mechanism linked to the brain damage often suffered by stroke victims—and are now searching for drugs to block it.


REF2014 success

18th December 2014

University ranked in 10th place for research and impact power in the Research Excellence Framework (REF)


Cardiovascular and Sports Exercise Research: REF success

18th December 2014

Ranked 1st in the UK for \'World Leading\' 4* research in 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).


International recognition for Leeds Professor

10th December 2014

Professor Anthony Turner has received a prestigious honorary doctorate from the Comenius University in Bratislava, the oldest and largest university in Slovakia.


Impact
Stories

Professor Eileen Ingham has led research over many years to develop improved approaches to aid healing and repair of soft tissues.

The Yorkshire Dales Environment Network is a partnership involved in the daily life and long term protection of the Yorkshire Dales.

Professor Ian Chopra and Dr Alex O'Neill have shown that high levels of FA prevent the development of resistant bacteria.

Evocutis offers a highly specialised portfolio of assays, models and clinical protocols focused entirely on skin science.

All impact stories