Strontium, oxygen, and carbon isotope compositions of well-preserved mollusks (bivalves) indicate a dominantly freshwater depositional setting for the lower Miocene–upper Miocene Pebas Formation in Western Amazonia. Molluscan 87Sr/86Sr ratios identify different freshwater sources. Andean runoff was the dominant water source in Miocene Western Amazonia, though there was occasional influx of waters from cratonic catchments.
At only one stratigraphic level, isotope signals indicate increased (mesohaline) aquatic salinities, in concert with a clearly more saline molluscan faunal assemblage.
Strontium isotope–based salinity estimates are surprisingly low when compared to other paleosalinity estimates based on the interpretation of (ichno)faunal assemblages and sedimentological structures. We propose that these seemingly contrasting observations can be unified if Miocene Western Amazonia was occupied by a long-lived (lacustrine) wetland system with a restricted connection, via the Los Llanos Basin, to the Caribbean Sea. Abundant runoff supplied fresh water to this system, which effectively blocked the influx of saline waters through the restricted marine connection to the north. Much like modern Lake Maracaibo, such a system could have been the site of microtidal currents and thus could have hosted brackish-water fauna in a dominantly freshwater depositional system.