Ancient origin of the modern deep-sea fauna

B. Thuy, Andy Gale, A. Kroh, M. Kucera, L. Numberger-Thuy, M. Riech, S. Stohr

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    Abstract

    The origin and possible antiquity of the spectacularly diverse modern deep-sea fauna has been debated since the beginning of deep-sea research in the mid-nineteenth century. Recent hypotheses, based on biogeographic patterns and molecular clock estimates, support a latest Mesozoic or early Cenozoic date for the origin of key groups of the present deep-sea fauna (echinoids, octopods). This relatively young age is consistent with hypotheses that argue for extensive extinction during Jurassic and Cretaceous Oceanic Anoxic Events (OAEs) and the mid-Cenozoic cooling of deep-water masses, implying repeated re-colonization by immigration of taxa from shallow-water habitats. Here we report on a well-preserved echinoderm assemblage from deep-sea (1000–1500 m paleodepth) sediments of the NE-Atlantic of Early Cretaceous age (114 Ma). The assemblage is strikingly similar to that of extant bathyal echinoderm communities in composition, including families and genera found exclusively in modern deep-sea habitats. A number of taxa found in the assemblage have no fossil record at shelf depths postdating the assemblage, which precludes the possibility of deep-sea recolonization from shallow habitats following episodic extinction at least for those groups. Our discovery provides the first key fossil evidence that a significant part of the modern deep-sea fauna is considerably older than previously assumed. As a consequence, most major paleoceanographic events had far less impact on the diversity of deep-sea faunas than has been implied. It also suggests that deep-sea biota are more resilient to extinction events than shallow-water forms, and that the unusual deep-sea environment, indeed, provides evolutionary stability which is very rarely punctuated on macroevolutionary time scales.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)e46913
    JournalPLoS One
    Volume7
    Issue number10
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

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