DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12244">

Seaweed morphology and ecology during the great animal diversification events of the early Paleozoic: A tale of two floras

Document Type


Publication Date



Geography and Geology

Publication Title



Non-calcified marine macroalgae (“seaweeds”) play a variety of key roles in the modern Earth system, and it is likely that they were also important players in the geological past, particularly during critical transitions such as the Cambrian Explosion (CE) and the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE). To investigate the morphology and ecology of seaweeds spanning the time frame from the CE through the GOBE, a carefully vetted database was constructed that includes taxonomic and morphometric information for non-calcified macroalgae from 69 fossil deposits. Analysis of the database shows a pattern of seaweed history that can be explained in terms of two floras: the Cambrian Flora and the Ordovician Flora. The Cambrian Flora was dominated by rather simple morphogroups, whereas the Ordovician Flora, which replaced the Cambrian Flora in the Ordovician and extended through the Silurian, mainly comprised comparatively complex morphogroups. In addition to morphogroup representation, the two floras show marked differences in taxonomic composition, morphospace occupation, functional-form group representation, and life habit, thereby pointing to significant morphological and ecological changes for seaweeds roughly concomitant with the GOBE and the transition from the Cambrian to Paleozoic Evolutionary Faunas. Macroalgal changes of a similar nature and magnitude, however, are not evident in concert with the CE, as the Cambrian Flora consists largely of forms established during the Ediacaran. The cause of such a lag in macroalgal morphological diversification remains unclear, but an intriguing possibility is that it signals a previously unknown difference between the CE and GOBE with regard to the introduction of novel grazing pressures. The consequences of the establishment of the Ordovician Flora for shallow marine ecosystems and Earth system dynamics remain to be explored in detail but could have been multifaceted and potentially include impacts on the global carbon cycle.

Link to Published Version

DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12244