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Trends Ecol Evol. 2011 Feb;26(2):81-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2010.11.012. Epub 2010 Dec 27.

Animals and the invention of the Phanerozoic Earth system.

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Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


Animals do not just occupy the modern biosphere, they permeate its structure and define how it works. Their unique combination of organ-grade multicellularity, motility and heterotrophic habit makes them powerful geobiological agents, imposing myriad feedbacks on nutrient cycling, productivity and environment. Most significantly, animals have 'engineered' the biosphere over evolutionary time, forcing the diversification of, for example, phytoplankton, land plants, trophic structure, large body size, bioturbation, biomineralization and indeed the evolutionary process itself. This review surveys how animals contribute to the modern world and provides a basis for reconstructing ancient ecosystems. Earlier, less animal-influenced biospheres worked quite differently from the one currently occupied, with the Ediacaran-Cambrian radiation of organ-grade animals marking a fundamental shift in macroecological and macroevolutionary expression.

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