This is the first in a series of papers intended to establish a Lower Jurassic ammonite zonation that takes into account the biostratigraphic and biogeographic peculiarities of the North American succession. Its development has been spurred by the need for high-resolution correlation between allochthonous terranes and the need for a standard to which microfossil sequences may be coupled.In North America the lower boundary of the Pliensbachian is drawn above the last echioceratids. The lower Pliensbachian is divided into, in ascending order, the Imlayi, Whiteavesi, and Freboldi zones; the upper Pliensbachian, into the Kunae and Carlottense zones. The Fannin Bay section in the Queen Charlotte Islands is designated the stratotype for the Whiteavesi, Freboldi, and Kunae zones; ideal stratotypes for the Imlayi and Carlottense zones are not presently known. Reference sections former illustrating the faunal associations that characterize all the zones are designated in western Nevada (the Sunrise Formation), northeastern Oregon (the Hurwal Formation), and northern British Columbia (the Spatsizi Group and Takwahoni Formation).The Polymorphitidae and Eoderoceratidae furnish the most important zonal indicators for the lower Pliensbachian; Oxynoticeratidae (Fanninoceras) and Hildoceratidae, for the upper Pliensbachian. Pseudoskirroceras imlayi and Acanthopleuroceras whiteavesi are described as new species. The presence of amaltheids in the northern parts of the allochthonous terranes permits a comparison with the northwest European succession at this level. Furthermore, the association in North America of typically east Pacific, Mediterranean, and northeast Asian species, as well as northwest European forms, emphasizes the critical importance of the North American Pliensbachian in achieving global correlations.