Algal plankton turn to hunting to survive and recover from end-Cretaceous impact darkness

Samantha Gibbs*, Paul Bown, Ben Ward, Sarah Alvarez, Hojung Kim, Odysseas Archontikis, Boris Sauterey, Alex Poulton, J.D. Wilson, Andy Ridgwell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The end-Cretaceous bolide impact triggered the devastation of marine ecosystems. However, the specific kill mechanism(s) are still debated, and how primary production subsequently recovered remains elusive. We used marine plankton microfossils and eco-evolutionary modeling to determine strategies for survival and recovery, finding that widespread phagotrophy (prey ingestion) was fundamental to plankton surviving the impact and also for the subsequent reestablishment of primary production. Ecological selectivity points to extreme post-impact light inhibition as the principal kill mechanism, with the marine food chain temporarily reset to a bacteria-dominated state. Subsequently, in a sunlit ocean inhabited by only rare survivor grazers but abundant small prey, it was mixotrophic nutrition (autotrophy and heterotrophy) and increasing cell sizes that enabled the eventual reestablishment of marine food webs some 2 million years later.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabc9123
JournalScience Advances
Issue number44
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2020


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