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Fundamental Processes in EcologyAn earth systems approach$
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David M Wilkinson

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780198568469

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198568469.001.0001

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(p.82) 7. Photosynthesis
Fundamental Processes in Ecology

David M. Wilkinson

Oxford University Press

Photosynthesis — both anoxygenic and oxygenic — allows access to new sources of energy. Oxygenic photosynthesis has the potential to create an oxygen-rich atmosphere and so allow aerobic respiration, which yields much higher amounts of energy than anaerobic respiration. The amount of oxygen added to the atmosphere is intimately linked to the burial of organic matter in sediments, therefore marine phytoplankton are crucially important in maintaining the levels of atmospheric oxygen on Earth. Anoxygenic photosynthesis will have a positive Gaian effect by providing an important source of energy. Oxygenic photosynthesis is more problematical; as with anoxygenic photosynthesis it provides an energy source, but the oxygen given off is likely to be toxic to organisms evolved in anoxic conditions. It is currently impossible to know if we should expect most biospheres to evolve oxygenic photosynthesis. However, improvements in telescope technology should allow us to look for oxygen-rich atmospheres around distant Earth-like planets.

Keywords:   photosynthesis, anoxygenic photosynthesis, oxygenic photosynthesis, phytoplankton, oxygen, anoxic, Earth-like planets, aerobic respiration, organic matter

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