Early Cenozoic differentiation of polar marine faunas

The widespread assumption that the origin of polar marine faunas is linked to the onset of major global cooling in the Late Eocene – Early Oligocene is being increasingly challenged. The Antarctic fossil record in particular is suggesting that some modern Southern Ocean taxa may have Early Eocene or even Paleocene origins, i.e. well within the Early Cenozoic greenhouse world. A global analysis of one of the largest marine clades at the present day, the Neogastropoda, indicates that not only is there a decrease in the number of species from the tropics to the poles but also a decrease in the evenness of their distribution. A small number of neogastropod families with predominantly generalist trophic strategies at both poles points to the key role of seasonality in structuring the highest latitude marine assemblages. A distinct latitudinal gradient in seasonality is temperature-invariant and would have operated through periods of global warmth such as the Early Cenozoic. To test this concept a second global analysis was undertaken of earliest Cenozoic (Paleocene) neogastropods and this does indeed show a certain degree of faunal differentiation at both poles. The Buccinidae, s.l. is especially well developed at this time, and this is a major generalist taxon at the present day. There is an element of asymmetry associated with this development of Paleocene polar faunas in that those in the south are more strongly differentiated than their northern counterparts; this can in turn be linked to the already substantial isolation of the southern high latitudes. The key role of seasonality in the formation of polar marine faunas has implications for contemporary ecosystem structure and stability.


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Authors: Crame, J. Alistair ORCIDORCID record for J. Alistair Crame

On this site: James Crame
16 January, 2013
PLoS One / 8
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