Abstract:

Bryozoans, stromatoporoid sponges, and tabulate corals, all colonial metazoans with lamellar, encrusting growth forms, developed and simultaneously diversified during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE). After revisiting some classic Lower, Middle, and Upper Ordovician reef localities in Laurentia (Franklin Mountains, west Texas, Mingan Islands in eastern Canada, and Champlain Valley in northeastern United States) and Baltica (northern Estonia) and reviewing the literature, we demonstrate that during the Ordovician a newly emerging consortium of sheet-like bryozoans, stromatoporoid sponges, and tabulate corals locally bound together by microbes, automicrite, and cement and solidly rooted in sediment became the dominant reef-builders globally. The diversification of these sheet-like metazoans (SLM), however, clearly lagged behind the first appearance of their respective skeletal ancestors. Their habitat expansion can be exemplified as a case of simultaneous ecological fitting and ecosystem engineering when the independently evolved shared traits were simultaneously co-opted and became advantageous under globally different environmental conditions. This interaction led to the evolutionary diversification of colonial metazoans during the GOBE and to the expansion of novel reef habitats in previously soft-surface settings; a transformation that forever changed marine reefal ecosystems.

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