The relationship between environmental change and the extinction of the nannoplankton Discoaster in the early Pleistocene

Jonathan D. Schueth, Timothy J. Bralower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The long-ranging nannoplankton genus Discoaster went extinct in the early Pleistocene, one of the most significant events in the Cenozoic nannofossil record. The causal factors of this extinction are poorly constrained, at least partially because the ecology of Discoaster is not well understood. We investigate the relationship between the extinction and environmental changes by comparing a suite of high-resolution nannofossil assemblage data at four Ocean Drilling Program sites to published environmental proxy records. Through the use of multivariate analysis, we determine Discoaster shared environmental preferences with the extant species Florisphaera profunda which thrives in the lower photic zone near the nutricline in locations where the water column is stratified. We show that the last occurrence of Discoaster was globally diachronous, rather than synchronous as previously thought, and likely took place in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. We propose that the demise of Discoaster was a two-stage process. A decrease in sea surface temperatures and increase in climate variability led to a global decline in Discoaster abundance. The extinction event itself correlates to shoaling of the nutricline as signified by a decrease in the carbon isotopic gradient between surface and thermocline foraminifera. We hypothesize that the combination of global cooling and a shoaling of the nutricline greatly reduced Discoaster's deepwater niche and contributed to its extinction. This may suggest that ocean stratification and the depth of the nutricline are important contributors to overall nannoplankton diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)863-876
Number of pages14
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology


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