MEPS 191:267-288 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps191267

Turbidity, arthropods and the evolution of perception: toward a new paradigm of marine phanerozoic diversity

Brian M. Marcotte*

The Collegium, 35 Winfield Road, Providence, Rhode Island 02906-5008, USA

ABSTRACT: Geological, paleo-oceanographic and paleoclimatological studies have independently demonstrated that the volume of preserved marine sediments, eustatic sea level, the depth to which the sea was oxygenated, the concentration of atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide and the amount of terrestrial rainfall fluctuated in a 400 million yr cycle over Phanerozoic time. These data are used to develop the hypothesis that the level of oceanic turbidity co-varied with these changes and that turbidity was the motor, plate tectonics the tempo and perception the mode of evolution in Phanerozoic seas. This hypothesis predicts that during turbidity maxima (Silurian-Devonian, Jurassic-Tertiary), animals with non-visual foraging and predator-avoidance mechanisms and adaptations to marine pelagic, freshwater and terrestrial habits should diversify. During turbidity minima (late-Precambrian-Cambrian, late-Carboniferous-Triassic), animals with visual sensory modalities and benthic habitat specializations should diversify. At the boundary of these environmental conditions, alternating mass extinctions of these adaptive characters and the taxa possessing them should occur. Patterns in the evolution of perceptual modalities, foraging strategies, predator avoidance mechanisms, habitat specializations and inferred aspects of behavioral ecology of aquatic arthropods, i.e. adaptive characters that are less sensitive to instantaneous changes in diversity than are the taxa that carried them, are used to test these predictions. Trilobite diversification and extinction; the adaptive radiation of ostracods and eumalacostracan crustaceans; the iterative evolution of small, fast-moving entomostracan crustaceans; and the evolution of terrestrial chelicerates and decapod crustaceans are all consistent with these predictions. In short, the history of aquatic evolution in Phanerozoic seas can be told in the evolution of perception. Data as disparate as the diversification and extinction of marine plants, cephalopod mollusks and fish are also consistent with predictions deduced from this hypothesis.


KEY WORDS: Methodological solipsism · Uniformitarianism · Mass extinction · Neoteny · Body size-environmental frequency relationships · Vision · Crustacea · Trilobita


Full text in pdf format