Abstract

Changes in seawater chemistry have affected the evolution of calcifying marine organisms, including their skeletal polymorph (calcite versus aragonite), which is believed to have been strongly influenced by the Mg/Ca ratio at the time these animals first emerged. However, we show that micrabaciids, a scleractinian coral clade that first appeared in the fossil record of the Cretaceous, when the ocean Mg/Ca ratio was near the lowest in the Phanerozoic (thus a priori favoring calcitic mineralogy), formed skeletons composed exclusively of aragonite. Exceptionally preserved aragonitic coralla of Micrabacia from the Late Cretaceous Ripley Formation (southeastern USA) have skeletal microstructures identical to their modern representatives. In addition, skeletons of Micrabacia from Cretaceous chalk deposits of eastern Poland are clearly diagenetically altered in a manner consistent with originally aragonitic mineralogy. These deposits have also preserved fossils of the scleractinian Coelosmilia, the skeleton of which is interpreted as originally calcitic. These findings show that if changes in seawater Mg/Ca ratio influenced the mineralogy of scleractinian corals, the outcome was taxon specific. The aragonitic mineralogy, unique skeletal microstructures and ultrastructures, and low Mg/Ca ratios in both fossil and living micrabaciids indicate that their biomineralization process is strongly controlled and has withstood major fluctuations in seawater chemistry during the past 70 m.y.

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