Investigating the Benthic Foraminiferal Stilostomellid Extinction and Mid Pleistocene Phytoplankton Evolution
Abstract:As global climate cooled during the Mid Pleistocene Transition (MPT, ~1.1–0.6 Ma), the last great extinction of benthic foraminifera occurred. The so-called ‘Stilostomella Extinction’ saw the disappearance of almost two families of elongated uniserial species with distinctive apertural architecture. The stepwise extinction consisted of a gradual disappearance at different water depths and ocean basins over successive glacials. Understanding the causes of this extinction has proven difficult, in part because ecological preferences are not well known, and because their extinction has not been documented in high resolution along with other paleoenvironmental proxies. For instance, one hypothesis for the extinction is lowering bottom water temperature.
We present new high-resolution (~5 ka time step) benthic foraminiferal data from ODP Site 593 in the Tasman Sea (~1068 m water depth) through the MPT, and compare with new intermediate water temperature (benthic Mg/Ca) and surface water productivity proxies (nannofossil assemblages and sediment pigment analyses). Extinction group occurrences do not correlate with intermediate water temperature. There are, however, clear changes in surface water productivity associated with the final phase of the extinction, at ~0.85 Ma. Pigments increase in abundance, indicating elevated glacial productivity across the MPT. Coccolith assemblages shift towards small Gephyrocapsa spp., and extinction occurs within the Reticulofenestra, both of which are global events. Comparisons with the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean extinction data indicates 0.85 Ma as a critical time interval in the global Stilostomella Extinction. This evidence strengthens the hypothesis that changes in the type of organic carbon reaching the sea floor, driven by reorganization within marine phytoplankton communities, may have been linked to the disappearance of the extinction group.