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Rapid recovery of life at ground zero of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction


The Cretaceous/Palaeogene mass extinction eradicated 76% of species on Earth1,2. It was caused by the impact of an asteroid3,4 on the Yucatán carbonate platform in the southern Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago5, forming the Chicxulub impact crater6,7. After the mass extinction, the recovery of the global marine ecosystem—measured as primary productivity—was geographically heterogeneous8; export production in the Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic–western Tethys was slower than in most other regions8,9,10,11, taking 300 thousand years (kyr) to return to levels similar to those of the Late Cretaceous period. Delayed recovery of marine productivity closer to the crater implies an impact-related environmental control, such as toxic metal poisoning12, on recovery times. If no such geographic pattern exists, the best explanation for the observed heterogeneity is a combination of ecological factors—trophic interactions13, species incumbency and competitive exclusion by opportunists14—and ‘chance’8,15,16. The question of whether the post-impact recovery of marine productivity was delayed closer to the crater has a bearing on the predictability of future patterns of recovery in anthropogenically perturbed ecosystems. If there is a relationship between the distance from the impact and the recovery of marine productivity, we would expect recovery rates to be slowest in the crater itself. Here we present a record of foraminifera, calcareous nannoplankton, trace fossils and elemental abundance data from within the Chicxulub crater, dated to approximately the first 200 kyr of the Palaeocene. We show that life reappeared in the basin just years after the impact and a high-productivity ecosystem was established within 30 kyr, which indicates that proximity to the impact did not delay recovery and that there was therefore no impact-related environmental control on recovery. Ecological processes probably controlled the recovery of productivity after the Cretaceous/Palaeogene mass extinction and are therefore likely to be important for the response of the ocean ecosystem to other rapid extinction events.

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Fig. 1: Palaeoproductivity indicators in the earliest Palaeocene at site M0077.
Fig. 2: Constraints on the age of the transitional unit.
Fig. 3: Early Danian foraminifer abundances and I/(Ca + Mg) oxygenation proxy.

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This research used samples and data provided by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). IODP Expedition 364 was jointly funded by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) and International Continental Drilling Program (ICDP), with contributions and logistical support from the Yucatán State Government and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). We thank T. Cayton for assistance with crushing and washing samples; S. Dameron, R. Moura de Mello and M. Leckie for helpful discussions on benthic foraminifer taxonomy; J. Maner for assistance with the UT ESEM laboratory and R. Martindale for assistance with petrographic microscope imaging. We are particularly grateful for assistance of the staff of the IODP Core Repository in Bremen, Germany for their assistance taking these samples and running shipboard analyses. The authors acknowledge Post-Expedition Awards from the US Science Support Program for C.M.L. and T.J.B., NSF OCE 1737351, and NASA NNX16AJ60G. Funding for F.J.R.-T. was provided by Project CGL2015-66835-P (Secretaría de Estado de I+D+I, Spain), and Scientific Excellence Unit UCE-2016-05 (Universidad de Granada).

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Nature thanks B. Huber and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors participated in sampling and data collection offshore and/or onshore during IODP–ICDP Expedition 364. C.M.L., T.J.B., F.J.R.-T., H.J. and J.S. collected and analysed microfossil data, M.T.W. provided detailed sedimentology, and J.D.O., P.C. and K.F. collected trace element, X-ray fluorescence and He isotope data, respectively. All authors contributed to writing and/or editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Christopher M. Lowery.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Location of site M0077 in the Chicxulub crater as seen using gravity data.

Black dots are cenotes. Modified from Gulick et al. 21.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Trace fossils in core 40 section 1 of IODP hole M0077A.

Discrete burrows in the upper transitional unit and the lower limestone are circled and labelled by the genus. Above the base of the limestone, trace fossils are abundant; representative examples are highlighted in the lower 10 cm of this interval. Ch, Chondrites; Pl, Planolites; Pa, Palaeophycus.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Reworked Cretaceous foraminifera in the transitional unit.

a, Globigerinelloides sp., sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 55–56 cm. b, Heterohelix sp., sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 104–105 cm. c, Clast of pelagic limestone containing older Cretaceous planktic foraminifera, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 106–110 cm. d, Praegublerina pseudotessera, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 118–129 cm. e, Racemiguembelina powelli, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 118–129 cm. f, Globotruncana bulloides, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 110–118 cm. g, Globotruncanita stuartiformis, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 118–129 cm. h, Globotruncanita elevata, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 118–129 cm. Scale bars, 100 μm.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Scanning electron micrographs of planktic foraminifera from core 40.

a, b, Examples of common reworked Cretaceous biserials, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1, 102–103 cm. c, Muricohedbergella monmouthensis, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 102–103 cm. d, Muricohedbergella holmdelensis, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 44–45 cm. e, Guembelitria cretacea, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 44–45 cm. f, G. cretacea, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 29–30 cm. g, G. cretacea, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 29–30 cm. h, Parvularugoglobigerina eugubina 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 31–32 cm. i, P. eugubina, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 31–32 cm. j, Globoconusa daubjergensis, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 31–32 cm. k, Eoglobigerina eobulloides, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 29–30 cm. l, Eoglobigerina edita, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 29–30 cm. m, Praemurica taurica, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 10–11 cm. n, Chiloguembelina morsei, sample 364-M0077A-40R-1-W, 10–11 cm.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Small and regular-sized nannofossils in the transitional unit.

All photographs from core 364-M0077-40R-1-W. Measurements in centimetres refer to depth in section 1 of core 40. ak, Images of small Micula spp.: a, 55–56 cm; b, 41–42 cm; c, 95–96 cm; d, 41–42 cm; e, 90–91 cm; f, 94–95 cm; g, 91–92 cm; h, 91–92 cm; i, 45–46 cm; j, 100–101 cm; k, 81–82 cm. lq, Images of regular-sized Micula spp.: l, 44–45 cm; m, 41–42 cm; n, 51–52 cm; o, 105–106 cm; p, 97–98 cm; q, 36–37 cm. s, t, Images of regular-sized Retecapsa spp.: s, 85–86 cm; t, 100–101 cm. rv, Images of small Retecapsa spp.: r, 100–101 cm; u, 71–72 cm, v, 100–101 cm. Scale bar, 2 μm.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Relative abundances of major Maastrichtian calcareous nannoplankton.

Small blue squares are Maastrichtian sites from a global compilation12; larger red squares are from the transitional unit at site M0077. These data demonstrate the unusual abundance of Watznaueria and Retecapsa at site M0077.

Extended Data Table 1 3He data

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Helium Isotope Age Model, Age Interpretations and References (39–41)

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table

This file contains Supplementary Table S1—Foraminifer abundance data in the study interval

Supplementary Table

This file contains Supplementary Table S2—Calcareous nannoplankton abundance data in the study interval

Supplementary Table

This file contains Supplementary Table S3—I/Ca data in the study interval

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Lowery, C.M., Bralower, T.J., Owens, J.D. et al. Rapid recovery of life at ground zero of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. Nature 558, 288–291 (2018).

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