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Possible links between extreme oxygen perturbations and the Cambrian radiation of animals

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

  • Tianchen He
  • Maoyan Zhu
  • Benjamin J.W. Mills
  • Peter M. Wynn
  • Andrey Yu Zhuravlev
  • Rosalie Tostevin
  • Philip A.E. Pogge von Strandmann
  • Aihua Yang
  • Simon W. Poulton
  • Graham A. Shields
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>6/05/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Nature Geoscience
Issue number6
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)468-474
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The role of oxygen as a driver for early animal evolution is widely debated. During the Cambrian explosion, episodic radiations of major animal phyla occurred coincident with repeated carbon isotope fluctuations. However, the driver of these isotope fluctuations and potential links to environmental oxygenation are unclear. Here, we report high-resolution carbon and sulphur isotope data for marine carbonates from the southeastern Siberian Platform that document the canonical explosive phase of the Cambrian radiation from ~524 to ~514 Myr ago. These analyses demonstrate a strong positive covariation between carbonate δ 13C and carbonate-associated sulphate δ 34S through five isotope cycles. Biogeochemical modelling suggests that this isotopic coupling reflects periodic oscillations in atmospheric O 2 and the extent of shallow ocean oxygenation. Episodic maxima in the biodiversity of animal phyla directly coincided with these extreme oxygen perturbations. Conversely, the subsequent Botoman-Toyonian animal extinction events (~514 to ~512 Myr ago) coincided with decoupled isotope records that suggest a shrinking marine sulphate reservoir and expanded shallow marine anoxia. We suggest that fluctuations in oxygen availability in the shallow marine realm exerted a primary control on the timing and tempo of biodiversity radiations at a crucial phase in the early history of animal life.