Long-Standing Theory That Appears To Be Wrong -
Gigantism Found In The Arctic Ocean Explained

15 July, 2013

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Follow us: - What can explain the gigantism found in the Arctic Ocean?

The prevailing assumption that giant animals evolved in polar seas due to the superabundance of oxygen in cold water appears to be wrong.

In an article in Functional Ecology, researchers argue that it is precisely their large size that enables these animals to take up sufficient oxygen.

Click on image to enlarge

The giant basking shark, which nicely shows the enlarged gills illustrating the importance of oxygen in attaining such large sizes. The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second largest fish. The largest accurately-measured specimen had a total length of12.27 metres (40.3 ft), and it weighed an estimated 19 tonnes. Photo credit: © Wild Wonders of Europe / Sá /

Today, giant dragonflies (griffenflies) and giant trilobites exist only as fossils, but giant fish, shrimp and squid still abound in cold, oxygen-rich waters in the polar seas.

Did these cold-blooded animals become so large due to the superabundance of oxygen, which is often assumed?

No, says Wilco Verberk, biologist at Radboud University Nijmegen and co-researcher David Atkinson, integrative ecologist at the University of Liverpool.

For contemporary giants living in cold water, this explanation cannot be correct.

Oxygen is indeed abundant in the Arctic Ocean, but the gas diffuses much more slowly in cold water. In fact, animals can take up less oxygen from oxygen-rich cold water than from warmer water with less oxygen.

So what can explain the gigantism found in the Arctic Ocean? Briefly summarised, as water is much denser than air, it is much harder to move oxygen-containing water over the body surfaces that take up oxygen.

Larger animals are more capable of fine tuning their oxygen budget, which makes gigantism beneficial in cold water.

On land, where it is much easier to absorb oxygen from the air, this reasoning does not apply; land animals tend to become larger if it is pleasantly warm. So how can we explain the existence of giant animals in the fossil record?

We will never know for sure, explains Verberk, but giant dragonflies and trilobites evolved largely in water. Perhaps they also evolved as giants so they could fine tune their oxygen budget.

See also:
The Arctic Changes Dramatically - Massive Greening And Rising Temperatures!

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