15 Mar 2021

15 Mar 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Test-Size Evolution of the planktonic Foraminifera Globorotalia menardii in the Eastern Tropical Atlantic since the Late Miocene

Thore Friesenhagen1,2 Thore Friesenhagen
  • 1Natural History Museum Basel, Augustinergasse 2, 4001 Basel, Switzerland
  • 2Department Umweltwissenschaften, University of Basel, Bernoullistrasse 32, 4056 Basel, Switzerland

Abstract. The mean test size of planktonic foraminifera (PF) is known to have increased especially during the last 12 Ma, probably in terms of an adaptive response to an intensification of the surface-water stratification. On geologically short timescales, the test size in PF is related to environmental conditions. In an optimal species-specific environment, individuals exhibit a greater maximum and average test size, while the size decreases the more unfavourable the environment becomes.

An interesting case was observed in the late Neogene and Quaternary size evolution of Globorotalia menardii, which seems to be too extreme to be only explained by changes in environmental conditions. In the western tropical Atlantic Ocean (WTAO) and the Caribbean Sea, the test size more than doubles from 2.6 Ma to 1.95 Ma and 1.7 Ma, respectively, following an almost uninterrupted and successive phase of test size decrease from 4 Ma. Two hypotheses have been suggested to explain the sudden occurrence of a giant G. menardii form: it was triggered by either (1) a punctuated, regional evolutionary event or (2) the immigration of specimens from the Indian Ocean via the Agulhas Leakage.

Morphometric measurements of tests from sediment samples of the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Leg 108 Hole 667A in the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean (ETAO), show that the giant type already appears 0.1 Ma earlier at this location than in the WTAO, which indicates that the extreme size increase in the early Pleistocene was a tropical-Atlantic-Ocean-wide event. A coinciding change in the predominant coiling direction suggests that probably a new morphotype occurred. If the giant size and the uniform change in the predominant coiling direction are an indicator for this new type, the form already occurred in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean at the Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary at 2.58 Ma. This finding supports the Agulhas Leakage hypothesis. However, the hypothesis of a regional, punctuated evolutionary event cannot be dismissed due to missing data from the Indian Ocean.

This paper presents the AMOC/thermocline hypothesis, which not only suggests an alternative explanation for the sudden test-size increase in the early Pleistocene, but also for the test size evolution within the whole tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea for the last 8 Ma. The test-size evolution shows a similar trend with indicators for changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) strength. The mechanism behind that might be that changes in the AMOC strength have a major influence on the thermal stratification of the upper water column, which is known to be the habitat of G. menardii.

Thore Friesenhagen

Status: open (until 01 May 2021)

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  • CC1: 'Comment on bg-2021-67', Nisan Sariaslan, 26 Mar 2021 reply

Thore Friesenhagen

Thore Friesenhagen


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Short summary
Size measurements of the planktonic foraminifer Globorotalia menardii and relative forms are used to investigate the shell-size evolution for the last 8 million years in the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean. Long-term changes in the shell size coincide with major climatic, palaeogeographic and palaeoceanographic changes and suggest the occurrence of a new G. menardii type in the Atlantic Ocean ca. 2 million years ago.