The Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum represents one of the most rapid and extreme warming events in the Cenozoic. Shallow-water stratigraphic sections from the Adriatic carbonate platform offer a rare opportunity to learn about the nature of Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum and the effects on shallow-water ecosystems. We use carbon and oxygen isotope stratigraphy, in conjunction with detailed larger benthic foraminiferal biostratigraphy, to establish a high-resolution paleoclimatic record for the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. A prominent negative excursion in δ13C curves of bulk-rock (∼1‰–3‰), matrix (∼4‰), and foraminifera (∼6‰) is interpreted as the carbon isotope excursion during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. The strongly 13C-depleted δ13C record of our shallow-marine carbonates compared to open-marine records could result from organic matter oxidation, suggesting intensified weathering, runoff, and organic matter flux.

The Ilerdian larger benthic foraminiferal turnover is documented in detail based on high-resolution correlation with the carbon isotopic excursion. The turnover is described as a two-step process, with the first step (early Ilerdian) marked by a rapid diversification of small alveolinids and nummulitids with weak adult dimorphism, possibly as adaptations to fluctuating Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum nutrient levels, and a second step (middle Ilerdian) characterized by a further specific diversification, increase of shell size, and well-developed adult dimorphism. Within an evolutionary scheme controlled by long-term biological processes, we argue that high seawater temperatures could have stimulated the early Ilerdian rapid specific diversification. Together, these data help elucidate the effects of global warming and associated feedbacks in shallow-water ecosystems, and by inference, could serve as an assessment analog for future changes.

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