Field of Science

Pangean Great Lake Paleoecology on the Cusp of the End-Triassic Extinction

Very cool study of the fish community in a large scale lake responding to changing environmental conditions during the earliest Jurassic.

Whiteside, J. H., Olsen, P. E., Eglinton, T. I., Cornet, B., McDonald, N. G., and P. Huber. In press. Pangean great lake paleoecology on the cusp of the end-Triassic extinction. Palaeogeography (2010), doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2010.11.025.


Abstract - Triassic and Early Jurassic age lacustrine deposits of eastern North American rift basins preserve a spectacular record of precession-related Milankovitch forcing in the Pangean tropics in the wake of the end-Triassic extinction event (ETE). The abundant and well preserved fossil fish assemblages from these great lakes show cyclical changes that track the permeating hierarchy of climatic cycles. To detail ecosystem processes correlating with succession of fish communities, bulk δ13C was measured through a 100 ky series of precession-forced lake level cycles in the lower Shuttle Meadow Formation of the Hartford rift basin, Connecticut that were deposited within 50 ky after the ETE. The deep-water phase of one of these cycles, the Bluff Head Bed, has produced thousands of articulated fish. There are fluctuations in the bulk δ13Corg in the cyclical strata that reflect differing degrees of lake water stratification, nutrient levels, and relative proportion of algal vs. plant derived organic matter that trace fish community changes. Extrinsic changes in the global exchangeable reservoirs can be excluded as an origin of this variability because molecule-level δ13C of n-alkanes from plant leaf waxes in the same strata show no such variability. Although higher taxonomic levels of the fish communities responded largely by sorting of taxa by environmental forcing, at the species level the holostean genus Semionotus responded by in situ evolution, and ultimately extinction, of a species flock. Fluctuations at the higher frequency, climatic precessional scale are mirrored at lower frequency, eccentricity modulated, scales, all following the lake-level hierarchical pattern. Thus, changes in lacustrine isotopic ratios amplify the Milankovitch climate signal that was already intensified by sequelae of the end-Triassic extinctions. The degree to which the ecological structure of modern lakes responds to similar environmental cyclicity is largely unknown, but similar patterns and processes are present within the Neogene history of the East African great lakes.

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