Abstract

An exceptionally well-preserved fossil seagrass community occurs in the late Pliocene of the Greek Island of Rhodes. The siliciclastic deposits of the Kritika section (Kritika Member, Rhodes Formation) contain several beds of clay and fine-grained sand with abundant remains of the leaves of Posidonia oceanica. A coarser sand bed with in situ rhizomes of the same endemic Mediterranean phanerogam also was found. Samples yield a diverse skeletal assemblage of 121 species of crustose coralline algae, foraminifers, annelids, gastropods, bivalves, encrusting bryozoans, and ostracodes, some of which also live exclusively on the leaves of present-day P. oceanica. The community of organisms associated with the rhizomes is slightly poorer (57 species), with bivalves appearing as distinctively abundant components of this assemblage (21 species). An analysis of the relationships between skeletal organisms and fossil leaves and rhizomes shows that the majority of them lived together in the same seagrass-vegetated environment, were transported a short distance from their natural habitat, and buried very rapidly in fine-grained sediments, thus preserving this remarkable assemblage almost intact. The rhizomes were preserved in growth position within a coarse-grained sand trapped by their horizontal and vertical network. The fossil assemblage compares well in terms of major skeletal components with modern shallow-water P. oceanica meadows. This study also provides evidence for the presence during the Pliocene of an already well-established and widespread seagrass community with biotopes comparable to those of the present-day Mediterranean.

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