Astrobiology is an extremely wide-ranging field and thus is in special need of conceptual and theoretical frameworks that can integrate its various arenas of study. In this paper I review recent work associated with a conceptual framework known as ‘ecological stoichiometry’ and even more recent extensions in the development of ‘biological stoichiometry’. Ecological stoichiometry is the study of the balance of energy and multiple chemical elements in ecological interactions and has developed rapidly in the study of nutrient cycling and energy flow in aquatic food webs. It identifies the elemental composition of interacting biota as central in understanding the nature of their interactions and dynamics, including key feedbacks via nutrient recycling. Biological stoichiometry extends this mode of thinking to all types of biological systems. It especially seeks to better understand, at the biochemical and genetic levels, the factors influencing the elemental composition of living things and the evolutionary forces that drive and constrain that elemental composition. By connecting key concepts of ecosystem ecology, evolutionary biology and biochemistry, stoichiometric theory integrates biological information into a more coherent whole that holds considerable promise for application in astrobiology. Several examples of potential astrobiological applications of stoichiometric analysis are offered, including ones related to pre-biotic evolution, the Cambrian explosion, biosignatures and biological feedbacks on planetary carbon cycling.
- Cambrian radiation
- global change