Ocean circulation changed profoundly in the late Cenozoic around tropical America as a result of constriction and final closure of the Central American seaway. In response, regional planktonic productivity is thought to have decreased in the Caribbean Sea. Previous studies have shown that shallow-marine communities reflect these changes by reorganizing from a suspension-feeder– dominated community to a more carbonate-rich, phototrophic-based community. Although changes in diversity, abundance, and body size of various shallow-marine invertebrates have previously been examined, no study has specifically used growth rate in suspension feeders to examine the effect that changes in ocean circulation may have had on shallow-marine communities. Here we show that a fast-growing oyster went extinct concurrently with changes in ocean circulation and planktonic productivity in the Pliocene. Faster-growing Crassostrea cahobasensis went extinct, whereas slower-growing Crassostrea virginica and columbiensis survived to the Holocene. Miocene–Pliocene C. cahobasensis grew 522% faster in shell carbonate and 251% faster in biomass relative to Quaternary C. virginica and C. columbiensis. Although differences in growth are due to proximate differences in environment, the disappearance of faster-growing C. cahobasensis from shallow-marine environments and the continued survival of slower-growing C. virginica and C. columbiensis in marginal-marine environments (e.g., estuaries, lagoons) is consistent with the view that concurrent changes in ocean circulation and declining primary production resulted in the restriction of Crassostrea to marginal-marine environments.

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