Approximately one third of this leaf was eaten by insects during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum more than 55 million years ago.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of Ellen Currano
Fossils Show that Warming Climate May Mean Insects Will Eat More Plant Leaves
News story originally written on February 11, 2008
More than 55 million years ago, the temperature of the Earth became much warmer because of a rise in the levels of carbon dioxide on the planet. Scientists who have been studying plants from that time have found that the warmer temperatures may have caused insects to eat more plants.
Scientists collected fossils for this study, including more than 5,000 fossil leaves. They collected fossil leaves that were alive before, during, and after a time when the Earth's temperature became very hot. This period was called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).
The researchers found that the plants from this period were much more damaged than fossil plants before and after that period. This means that the insects living during that time quickly responded to a major change in the climate. When the temperature became warmer, insects from the tropics migrated north to feed on plants in different areas.
On the Earth today, insects in the tropics eat more plants, and warming temperatures are causing them to widen the range of where they live. As today's temperatures on Earth continue to rise, the researchers believe there could be more damage to crops and forests. What these scientists have learned about climate change in the past will help people prepare for the effects global warming in the future.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
on science education, ranging from evolution
, classroom research
, and the need for science and math literacy
You might also be interested in:
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a kind of gas. There isn't that much carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere, but it is still very important. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That means it helps trap heat coming...more
Kingdom Plantae has almost 300,000 different kinds of plants. Plants are found all over planet Earth. They can live in fields, in swamps, in oceans and in the desert. They can live where it is hot and...more
Fossils are evidence of what life was like long ago. The oldest fossils are over three billion years old and the youngest fossils are about 10,000 years old. Scientists that study fossils know that creatures...more
How do you know to pack your bathing suit and sunhat for a trip to a tropical island or pack warm sweaters and coats for a trip to Alaska? If you know a little about regional climates, then you know what...more
Have you ever taken your temperature to see if you are getting sick? Scientists have been taking the Earth's temperature and have found that it is getting warmer. During the past 100 years, the Earth's...more
Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. Adam Kent, a geologist at Oregon State University, says this...more
The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core. The mantle is made up of many different reservoirs that have different chemical compositions. Scientists...more