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Nature. 2009 Jan 8;457(7226):183-6. doi: 10.1038/nature07435.

Diversity dynamics of marine planktonic diatoms across the Cenozoic.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


Diatoms are the dominant group of phytoplankton in the modern ocean. They account for approximately 40% of oceanic primary productivity and over 50% of organic carbon burial in marine sediments. Owing to their role as a biological carbon pump and effects on atmospheric CO(2) levels, there is great interest in elucidating factors that influenced the rapid rise in diatom diversity during the past 40 million years. Two biotic controls on diversification have been proposed to explain this diversity increase: (1) geochemical coupling between terrestrial grasslands and marine ecosystems through the global silicon cycle; and (2) competitive displacement of other phytoplankton lineages. However, these hypotheses have not been tested using sampling-standardized fossil data. Here we show that reconstructions of species diversity in marine phytoplankton reject these proposed controls and suggest a new pattern for oceanic diatom diversity across the Cenozoic. Peak species diversity in marine planktonic diatoms occurred at the Eocene-Oligocene boundary and was followed by a pronounced decline, from which diversity has not recovered. Although the roles of abiotic and biotic drivers of diversification remain unclear, major features of oceanic diatom evolution are decoupled from both grassland expansion and competition among phytoplankton groups.

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