Abstract

The Ordovician is a period when novel reef ecosystems appeared along with new reef constructors and skeletal-dominated reefs. The Lower Ordovician (late Tremadocian) Fenhsiang Formation of the Three Gorges area in South China contains the oldest known bryozoan reefs (lithistid sponge–bryozoan and bryozoan–pelmatozoan reefs) alongside lithistid sponge–microbial reefs. The latter are characterized by the dominance of microbialites that encrusted and bound the frame-building sponges and inter-sponge sediments. In contrast, the lithistid sponge–bryozoan and bryozoan–pelmatozoan reefs are generally characterized by bryozoans that encrusted the frame-building sponges or pelmatozoans and grew to fill the inter-frameworks. These sponges and pelmatozoans did not construct the rigid frameworks unaided; their association with bryozoans enabled the development of small skeletal-dominated reefs with rigid frameworks. Skeletal-dominated reefs, for which frame-constructing and encrusting roles are conspicuous, were largely unknown before the Early Ordovician. The appearance of skeletal organisms (specifically colonial, encrusting bryozoans) enabled the development of skeletal-dominated reefs, which were pioneers in the rise of Middle–Late Ordovician reefs. The Early Ordovician establishment of skeletal-dominated reefs at the earliest stages of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event would have created novel niches and biological interactions that further promoted the evolution of reef-building and -dwelling organisms, as well as ensuing reef ecosystems.

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