The late Paleocene thermal maximum, or LPTM (ca. 55 Ma), represents a geologically brief time interval (∼220 k.y.) characterized by profound global warming and associated environmental change. The LPTM is marked by a prominent negative carbon isotope excursion (CIE) interpreted to reflect a massive and abrupt input of 12C-enriched carbon to the ocean-atmosphere reservoir, possibly as a result of catastrophic gas-hydrate release, on time scales equivalent to present-day rates of anthropogenic carbon input. The LPTM corresponds to important changes in the global distribution of biota, including mass extinction of marine benthic organisms. The dinoflagellate cyst record indicates that surface- dwelling marine plankton in marginal seas also underwent significant perturbations during the LPTM. We report on the dramatic response of representatives of the genus Apectodinium from two upper Paleocene–lower Eocene sections in the Southern (New Zealand) and Northern (Austria) Hemispheres, where the dinoflagellate records are directly correlated with the CIE, benthic foraminifera extinction event, and calcareous nannofossil zonation. The results indicate that the inception of Apectodinium-dominated assemblages appears to be synchronous on a global scale, and that the event is precisely coincident with the beginning of the LPTM. Apectodinium markedly declined in abundance near the end of the LPTM. This Apectodinium event may be associated with (1) exceptionally high global sea-surface temperatures and/or (2) a significant increase in marginal-marine surface-water productivity. Such a globally synchronous acme of dinoflagellate cysts is unprecedented within the dinoflagellate cyst fossil record.