A paper co-authored by Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental sciences, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2009.
In the article, “Surviving mass extinction by bridging the benthic/planktic divide,” Thomas and her colleagues show a very unexpected observations, i.e. that a species of foraminifera, which lives floating in the surface waters of the Indian Ocean, is genetically the same as a species living on the bottom of the ocean in shallow waters (between tide levels, coast of Kenya) – using DNA analysis.
“We then show, using a sophisticated way of chemical analysis, that it was not just blown there by storms, but formed its shell there in the surface waters,” Thomas explains. “We then interpret these data, and argument that such species that live both on the bottom and floating in surface waters (until now unknown for foraminifera) are much better able to survive the adverse environmental effects at such times as the meteorite impact that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.”
The story is written up by the UK counterpart of the National Science Foundation (NERC), which funded the first author of the paper, Kate Darling.