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Resilience of Pacific pelagic fish across the Cretaceous/Palaeogene mass extinction
Sibert, E.C.; Hull, P.M.; Norris, R.D. (2014). Resilience of Pacific pelagic fish across the Cretaceous/Palaeogene mass extinction. Nature Geoscience 7(9): 667–670.
In: Nature Geoscience. Nature Publishing Group: London. ISSN 1752-0894, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Sibert, E.C.
  • Hull, P.M.
  • Norris, R.D.

    Open-ocean ecosystems experienced profound disruptions to biodiversity and ecological structure during the Cretaceous/Palaeogene mass extinction about 66 million years ago(1-3). It has been suggested that during this mass extinction, a collapse of phytoplankton production rippled up the food chain, causing the wholesale loss of consumers and top predators(3-5). Pelagic fish represent a key trophic link between primary producers and top predators, and changes in their abundance provide a means to examine trophic relationships during extinctions. Here we analyse accumulation rates of microscopic fish teeth and shark dermal scales (ichthyoliths) in sediments from the Pacific Ocean and Tethys Sea across the Cretaceous/Palaeogene extinction to reconstruct fish abundance. We find geographic differences in post-disaster ecosystems. In the Tethys Sea, fish abundance fell abruptly at the Cretaceous/Palaeogene boundary and remained depressed for at least 3 million years. In contrast, fish abundance in the Pacific Ocean remained at or above pre-boundary levels for at least four million years following the mass extinction, despite marked extinctions in primary producers and other zooplankton consumers in this region. We suggest that the mass extinction did not produce a uniformly dead ocean or microbially dominated system. Instead, primary production, at least regionally, supported ecosystems with mid-trophic-level abundances similar to or above those of the Late Cretaceous.

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