New global palaeogeographical reconstructions for the Early Palaeozoic and their generation
Trond H. Torsvik, L. Robin M. Cocks, 2013. "New global palaeogeographical reconstructions for the Early Palaeozoic and their generation", Early Palaeozoic Biogeography and Palaeogeography, D. A. T. Harper, T. Servais
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New palaeogeographical reconstructions are presented at 10 myr intervals from the Lower Cambrian at 540 Ma to the Lower Devonian at 400 Ma, showing continental crustal fragments and oceans (not lands and seas), with appropriate kinematic continuity between successive maps. The maps were chiefly generated by revised and selected palaeomagnetic data and revised Apparent Polar Wandering paths linked to present-day polygons from the main continents. These have been reinforced by analysis of the distributions of some fossils and sediments. Gondwana was the dominating supercontinent from its final assembly in the Latest Neoproterozoic at about 550 Ma until the Carboniferous, and covered much of the Southern Hemisphere. The Northern Hemisphere was largely occupied by the vast Panthalassic Ocean. The relative positions of the major continents and the latitudes and rotation histories of Gondwana, Baltica, Siberia and Laurentia (Laurussia from the mid-Silurian) are now well known. Although Laurentia was oriented in a similar direction to the present, Siberia was inverted throughout the Lower Palaeozoic, and Baltica too was initially inverted, but rotated through 120° between the Late Cambrian and Late Ordovician before collision with Laurentia in the mid-Silurian Caledonide Orogeny. Through reconstructions of the Caledonide and some other orogenies, the progressive history of the Iapetus Ocean between Laurentia and Baltica/Gondwana is well constrained. Less major continents whose positions are also well known include Avalonia (initially peri-Gondwanan but migrating in the Early Ordovician to join Baltica by the end of the Ordovician), Sibumasu (now considered an integral part of Gondwana) and Mongolia (adjacent to Siberia). A large number of other terranes are reviewed and plotted on the reconstructions with varying degrees of certainty. However, significant continents with less well constrained or controversial positions are South China, North China (Sinokorea), Annamia (Indochina) and Arctic Alaska–Chukotka. The European areas of France, Iberia and southern Italy, previously considered by some as a separate Armorican Terrane Assemblage, remained parts of core Gondwana until the opening of the Palaeotethys Ocean near the end of the Silurian, but it is uncertain whether Perunica (Bohemia) was one of that group or whether it left Gondwana during the Middle Ordovician.
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The Early Palaeozoic was a critical interval in the evolution of marine life on our planet. Through a window of some 120 million years, the Cambrian Explosion, Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, End Ordovician Extinction and the subsequent Silurian Recovery established a steep trajectory of increasing marine biodiversity that started in the Late Proterozoic and continued into the Devonian. Biogeography is a key property of virtually all organisms; their distributional ranges, mapped out on a mosaic of changing palaeogeography, have played important roles in modulating the diversity and evolution of marine life. This Memoir first introduces the content, some of the concepts involved in describing and interpreting palaeobiogeography, and the changing Early Palaeozoic geography is illustrated through a series of time slices. The subsequent 26 chapters, compiled by some 130 authors from over 20 countries, describe and analyse distributional and in many cases diversity data for all the major biotic groups plotted on current palaeogeographic maps. Nearly a quarter of a century after the publication of the ‘Green Book’ (Geological Society, London, Memoir 12, edited by McKerrow and Scotese), improved stratigraphic and taxonomic data together with more accurate, digitized palaeogeographic maps, have confirmed the central role of palaeobiogeography in understanding the evolution of Early Palaeozoic ecosystems and their biotas.