Influence of climate change and marine chemistry on ecological shifts following the Triassic/Jurassic mass extinction
Abstract:Two aspects of the Triassic/Jurassic transition that seem incongruous are increasing warming and increasing ecological dominance by siliceous sponges on shallow shelves. Warming is interpreted from proxy data showing increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations associated with eruption pulses of the Central Atlantic Province (CAMP) basalts across rifting Pangea. Post-extinction ecological dominance by siliceous sponges is found in recent field investigations of Nevada and Peru, and literature on the Austrian Alps. Whereas evidence from the Panthalassan siliceous sponge ramps of the early Jurassic clearly records deposition on sub- and tropical shallow shelves (a warm environment), modern sponge occupations of comparable intensity exist only in deep and cold environments. Resolving this apparent contrast requires consideration of silica cycling.
Silica is a limiting nutrient for siliceous sponges, and the post-extinction sponges of the earliest Jurassic show desmid spicule morphologies matching modern phenotypic indicators of high silica concentration. During the Triassic the major documented biosiliceous sink was radiolarian deep sea chert deposits despite a major species-level turnover at the extinction. Diatoms did not exist in the Triassic. A major alteration to silica cycling in the early Jurassic could have resulted from increased terrigenous supply for two reasons: increased atmospheric carbon dioxide would likely intensify continental weathering, and the extensive flood basalts produced an easily-weathered silica source. Simple box model calculations allow consideration of supply vs demand, and of the pace of possible changes. Potential weathering rates of silica are contrasted with recent published data on sponge silica sequestration, showing that the presence of the CAMP basalts alone could support increased sponge abundance across tropical carbonate shelves. Estimates of doubling and residence times in a simple one-box model show that the change in silica concentration likely occurred over hundred-thousand year timescales relevant to the post-extinction ecology. The influence of climate and weathering on marine chemistry and ecological opportunity presents an excellent example of interrelated Earth and life systems at a critical transition point.