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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Mar 27;104(13):5501-6. Epub 2007 Mar 16.

Environmental change preceded Caribbean extinction by 2 million years.

Author information

  • 1Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, P.O. Box 0843-03092, Balboa, Republic of Panama. odeaa@si.edu

Abstract

Paleontologists typically treat major episodes of extinction as single and distinct events in which a major environmental perturbation results in a synchronous evolutionary response. Alternatively, the causes of biotic change may be multifaceted and extinction may lag behind the changes ultimately responsible because of nonlinear ecological dynamics. We examined these alternatives for the major episode of Caribbean extinction 2 million years ago (Ma). Isolation of the Caribbean from the Eastern Pacific by uplift of the Panamanian Isthmus was associated with synchronous changes in Caribbean near shore environments and community composition between 4.25 and 3.45 Ma. Seasonal fluctuations in Caribbean seawater temperature decreased 3-fold, carbonate deposition increased, and there was a striking, albeit patchy, shift in dominance of benthic ecosystems from heterotrophic mollusks to mixotrophic reef corals and calcareous algae. All of these changes correspond well with a simple model of decreased upwelling and collapse in planktonic productivity associated with the final stages of the closure of the isthmian barrier. However, extinction rates of mollusks and corals did not increase until 3-2 Ma and sharply peaked between 2 and 1 Ma, even though extinction overwhelmingly affected taxa commonly associated with high productivity. This time lag suggests that something other than environmental change per se was involved in extinction that does not occur as a single event. Understanding cause and effect will require more taxonomically refined analysis of the changing abundance and distribution patterns of different ecological guilds in the 2 million years leading up to the relatively sudden peak in extinction.

PMID:
17369359
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC1838446
Free PMC Article

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