Studying Evolution Beneath the Waves

A team of scientists in California is studying the evolution of sea creatures.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

While conservationists in Nepal are trying to save endangered species from extinction, other experts have been figuring to how much energy it takes to create a new species.

Professor DREW ALLEN (Ecologist, University of California, Santa Barbara): We calculate that it's on the order of 10 to the 23 joules, which is enormous. It's greater than all of the fossil fuel that people consume in a year.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Drew Allen is an ecologist at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He's part of a team that's studying the evolution of some common sea creatures called foraminifera. They are single-celled organisms that drift near the sea's surface. Over millions of years, dozens of species of these creatures have come and gone.

Allen says each one burned a lot of calories, equivalent to billions of tanks of gas, while struggling to survive.

Prof. ALLEN: It follows from the fact that it takes hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years to make a new species. And the number of individuals involved is huge. It's on the order of 100 quadrillion (unintelligible) out in the ocean at any given time. So we're talking about huge numbers over a very long time span.

INSKEEP: Allen's calculations, the first of their kind, are in a recent issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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