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Effect of nutrient availability on marine origination rates throughout the Phanerozoic eon

Nature Geoscience volume 3, pages 430434 (2010) | Download Citation


Throughout the Phanerozoic eon (542 Myr ago to the present), the diversity of marine organisms has varied. These changes are fairly well resolved1, but the controls on origination and diversification are less well understood. Changes in origination rates are thought to arise from a complex interplay between biological forces such as competition and predation2, phytoplankton stoichiometry3 and bioturbation3 and abiotic controls such as environmental setting4, temperature5,6, sea level7 and nutrient availability8. Here we statistically assess relationships between records of environmental conditions9,10,11,12,13,14 and global marine origination rates2 during the Phanerozoic. We find significant positive correlations between changes in origination rates and variations in indicators of continental weathering (87Sr/86Sr) and phosphorus recycling (δ34S), as well as a significant negative correlation between variability in origination rates and eustatic sea level. We suggest that continental weathering, phosphorus recycling and sea level—through the exposure of the continental shelf area to erosion—are all controls on the availability of marine nutrients. We therefore propose that over secular timescales, nutrient availability, as controlled by continental weathering and phosphorus recycling, is an important regulator of genus-level origination in the marine realm, with periods of increased nutrient availability associated with higher origination rates.

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We thank J. Alroy and K.G. Miller for sharing their databases on Phanerozoic marine origination rates and sea level, respectively. J.S. Crampton and G.S. Herbert provided insightful comments on an earlier draft. D.C. Roman and G. Fox as well as C.H. Cuartas gave helpful advice on the various statistical questions and on R programming, respectively. We are also very grateful to W. Kiessling and R.E. Martin for constructive comments, which helped improve the manuscript. This is Paleobiology Database publication no. 116.

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  1. Department of Geology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33620-5201, USA

    • Andrés L. Cárdenas
    •  & Peter J. Harries


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Both authors contributed to the research, data interpretation and manuscript preparation.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Andrés L. Cárdenas or Peter J. Harries.

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