The spatial and temporal diversification of Early Palaeozoic vertebrates
M. Paul Smith, Philip C. J. Donoghue, Ivan J. Sansom, 2002. "The spatial and temporal diversification of Early Palaeozoic vertebrates", Palaeobiogeography and Biodiversity Change: the Ordovician and Mesozoic–Cenozoic Radiations, J. A. Crame, A. W. Owen
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Recent discoveries have dramatically altered traditional views of the stratigraphic distribution and phylogeny of Early Palaeozoic vertebrates and permit a reappraisal of biogeographic patterns and processes over the first 120 million years of vertebrate evolution. Stratigraphic calibration of the phylogenetic trees indicates that most of the pre-Silurian record can be inferred only through ghost ranges. Assessment of the available data suggests that this is due to a shift in ecological niches after the latest Ordovician extinction event and a broadening of geographical range following the amalgamation of Euramerica during the early Silurian. Two major patterns are apparent in the biogeographic data. Firstly, the majority of jawless fishes with dermoskeletal, plated ‘armour’ were highly endemic during Cambrian-Ordovician time, with arandaspids restricted to Gondwana, galeaspids to China, and anatolepids, astraspids and, possibly, heterostracans confined to Laurentia. These Laurentian groups began to disperse to other continental blocks as the ‘Old Red Sandstone continent’ amalgamated through a series of tectonic collisions. The second maj or pattern, in contrast, encompasses a number of microsquamous and naked, jawed and jawless primitive vertebrates such as conodonts, thelodonts, placoderms, chondrichthyans and acanthodians, which dispersed rapidly and crossed oceanic barriers to attain cosmopolitan distributions, although many have Laurentian origins. A clear difference in dispersal potential exists between these two types of fishes. Overall, the development of biogeographic patterns in Early Palaeozoic vertebrates involved a complex interaction of dispersal, vicariance and tectonic convergence.
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The study of biodiversity through geological time provides important information for the understanding of diversity patterns at the present day. Hitherto, much effort has been paid to studying the mass extinctions of the Phanerozoic but the research emphasis has now changed to focus on what occurred between these spectacular catastrophic events. After the Cambrian ‘explosion’ of marine organisms with readily preservable skeletons, there have been two intervals when life radiated dramatically — the Ordovician Period, and the mid-Mesozoic-Cenozoic eras. These intervals saw a fundamental reorganization of biodiversity on a hierarchy of biogeographical scales. The size of these diversity increases and their probable causes are topics of intense debate, and there is an intriguing link between the dispersal of continents, changing climates and the proliferation of life.
The papers in this volume are written by palaeontologists, biogeographers and geologists addressing the highly topical field of palaeobiodiversity in the context of the Earth’s changing geography. Palaeobiogeography and Biodiversity Change: the Ordovician and Mesozoic-Cenozoic Radiations illustrates many aspects of the two great episodes of biotic radiation and shows how long periods of time and plate tectonic movements have a fundamental influence on the generation and maintenance of major extant biodiversity patterns.
The volume will be of interest to professional palaeontologists, biologists and geologists, as well as to students in earth and biological sciences.