The largest radiation of Phanerozoic marine animal life quadrupled genus-level diversity towards the end of the Ordovician Period about 450 million years ago. A leading hypothesis for this Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event is that cooling of the Ordovician climate lowered sea surface temperatures into the thermal tolerance window of many animal groups, such as corals. A complementary role for oxygenation of subsurface environments has been inferred based on the increasing abundance of skeletal carbonate, but direct constraints on atmospheric O2 levels remain elusive. Here, we use high-resolution paired bulk carbonate and organic carbon isotope records to determine the changes in isotopic fractionation between these phases throughout the Ordovician radiation. These results can be used to reconstruct atmospheric O2 levels based on the O2-dependent fractionation of carbon isotopes by photosynthesis. We find a strong temporal link between the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event and rising O2 concentrations, a pattern that is corroborated by O2 models that use traditional carbon–sulfur mass balance. We conclude that that oxygen levels probably played an important role in regulating early Palaeozoic biodiversity levels, even after the Cambrian Explosion.
Nature Geoscience – Springer Journals
Published: Nov 20, 2017
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