Late Neogene evolution of modern deep-dwelling plankton

Flavia Boscolo-Galazzo, Amy Jones, Tom Dunkley Jones, Katherine A. Crichton, Bridget S. Wade, Paul N. Pearson

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


The fossil record of marine microplankton provides insights into the evolutionary drivers which led to the origin of modern deep-water plankton, one of the largest component of ocean biomass. We use global abundance and biogeographic data combined with depth habitat reconstructions to determine the environmental mechanisms behind speciation in two groups of pelagic microfossils over the past 15 million years. We compare our microfossil datasets with water column profiles simulated in an Earth System model. We show that deep-living planktonic foraminiferal (zooplankton) and calcareous nannofossil (mixotroph phytoplankton) species were virtually absent globally during the peak of the middle Miocene warmth. Evolution of deep-dwelling planktonic foraminifera started from subpolar-midlatitude species during late Miocene cooling, via allopatry. Deep-dwelling species subsequently spread towards lower latitudes and further diversified via depth sympatry, establishing modern communities stratified hundreds of meters down the water column. Similarly, sub-euphotic zone specialist calcareous nannofossils become a major component of tropical and sub-tropical assemblages through the latest Miocene to early Pliocene. Our model simulations suggest that increased organic matter and oxygen availability for planktonic foraminifera, and increased nutrients and light penetration for nannoplankton, favored the evolution of new deep water niches. These conditions resulted from global cooling and the associated increase in the efficiency of the biological pump over the last 15 million years.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherBiogeosciences Discuss
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2021


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