Phytoplankton community disruption caused by latest Cretaceous global warming

Johan Vellekoop*, Lineke Woelders, Appy Sluijs, Kenneth G. Miller, Robert P. Speijer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Phytoplankton responses to a ~ 350 kyr (kiloyear) long phase of gradual late Maastrichtian (latest Cretaceous) global warming starting at ~ 66:4 Ma can provide valuable insights into the long-term influences of global change on marine ecosystems. Here we perform micropaleontological analyses on three cores from the New Jersey paleoshelf to assess the response of phytoplankton using cyst-forming dinoflagellates and benthic ecosystems using benthic foraminifera. Our records show that this latest Maastrichtian warming event (LMWE), characterized by a 4.0±1.3 °C warming of sea surface waters on the New Jersey paleoshelf, resulted in a succession of nearly monospecific dinoflagellate-cyst assemblages, dominated by the species Palynodinium grallator. This response, likely triggered by the combination of warmer and seasonally thermally stratified seas, appears to have been more intense at offshore sites than at nearshore sites. The LMWE, and related dinoflagellate response, is associated with an impoverished benthic ecosystem. A wider geographic survey of literature data reveals that the dominance of P. grallator is a marker for the LMWE throughout the northern midlatitudes. While the dinocyst assemblage returned to a stable, normal marine community in the last tens of thousands of years of the Maastrichtian, benthic foraminiferal diversity appears to have remained slightly suppressed. Increased ecosystem stress during the latest Maastrichtian potentially primed global ecosystems for the subsequent mass extinction following the Cretaceous Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary Chicxulub impact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4201-4210
Number of pages10
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2019


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