Life in a temperate Polar sea: a unique taphonomic window on the structure of a Late Cretaceous Arctic marine ecosystem

Karen Chin, John Bloch, Arthur Sweet, Justin Tweet, Jaelyn Eberle, Stephen Cumbaa, Jakub Witkowski, David Harwood

Abstract

As the earth faces a warming climate, the rock record reminds us that comparable climatic scenarios have occurred before. In the Late Cretaceous, Arctic marine organisms were not subject to frigid temperatures but still contended with seasonal extremes in photoperiod. Here, we describe an unusual fossil assemblage from Devon Island, Arctic Canada, that offers a snapshot of a ca 75 Myr ago marine palaeoecosystem adapted to such conditions. Thick siliceous biogenic sediments and glaucony sands reveal remarkably persistent high primary productivity along a high-latitude Late Cretaceous coastline. Abundant fossil faeces demonstrate that this planktonic bounty supported benthic invertebrates and large, possibly seasonal, vertebrates in short food chains. These ancient organisms filled trophic roles comparable to those of extant Arctic species, but there were fundamental differences in resource dynamics. Whereas most of the modern Arctic is oligotrophic and structured by resources from melting sea ice, we suggest that forested terrestrial landscapes helped support the ancient marine community through high levels of terrigenous organic input.

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Footnotes

    • Received June 11, 2008.
    • Accepted July 28, 2008.
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