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Early to mid Palaeozoic marine phytoplankton are represented by acritarchs and associated forms, which had a global distribution from the early Cambrian to the early Carboniferous (Mississippian). Palaeozoic phytoplankton assemblages show varying degrees of cosmopolitanism and endemism through time. A high degree of cosmopolitanism was evidently characteristic of the Cambrian and much of the Late Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian, but provincialism was more marked in the Early Ordovician and Hirnantian (latest Ordovician), the latter at a time of major palaeoenvironmental perturbations. Distribution patterns of Palaeozoic phytoplankton are attributed to a number of interacting factors, including palaeolatitude, palaeotemperature, oceanic circulation patterns, the disposition of continents, differentiation between oceanic and cratonic (distal–proximal) assemblages, and sedimentary environments and facies. There are indications that biogeographical ranges of taxa shift over time. Moving our understanding of Palaeozoic phytoplankton biogeography forward requires (1) targeted investigation of regions and time periods for which no or little data exist, (2) quantitative analysis of data to investigate how similarity between regions varies through time and how this might correlate with other datasets such as carbon isotope stratigraphy or sea-level, and (3) rigorous application of well-defined time slices to compare coeval assemblages, at least within the limits of resolution.

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