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Palaeoceanographic implications of genetic variation in living North Atlantic Neogloboquadrina pachyderma


The shells of the planktonic foraminifer Neogloboquadrina pachyderma have become a classical tool for reconstructing glacial–interglacial climate conditions in the North Atlantic Ocean1,2,3. Palaeoceanographers utilize its left- and right-coiling variants, which exhibit a distinctive reciprocal temperature and water mass related shift in faunal abundance both at present and in late Quaternary sediments1,2,4,5. Recently discovered cryptic genetic diversity in planktonic foraminifers6,7,8 now poses significant questions for these studies. Here we report genetic evidence demonstrating that the apparent ‘single species’ shell-based records of right-coiling N. pachyderma used in palaeoceanographic reconstructions contain an alternation in species as environmental factors change. This is reflected in a species-dependent incremental shift in right-coiling N. pachyderma shell calcite δ18O between the Last Glacial Maximum and full Holocene conditions. Guided by the percentage dextral coiling ratio, our findings enhance the use of δ18O records of right-coiling N. pachyderma for future study. They also highlight the need to genetically investigate other important morphospecies to refine their accuracy and reliability as palaeoceanographic proxies.

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Figure 1: Spatial distributions of coiling ratios and isotopic differences.
Figure 2: Geographical distribution of genotypes of left-coiling N. pachyderma [Type I (sin.)], the right-coiling form of N. pachyderma [Type I (sin.)], and right-coiling N. pachyderma [Type I (dex.)].
Figure 3: Time series showing climate proxies of two sediment cores versus depth and versus calendar years.


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We thank the crew and scientists of RV Polarstern (ARK XV) for their efforts. Sampling on board was conducted by J. Netzer and E. Stangeew. Part of this work was originally conducted within SFB313, and we thank J. Rumohr for unpublished data. D.B. was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. This work was supported by the NERC and the Leverhulme Trust.

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Bauch, D., Darling, K., Simstich, J. et al. Palaeoceanographic implications of genetic variation in living North Atlantic Neogloboquadrina pachyderma. Nature 424, 299–302 (2003).

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