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Reconstructing the environmental conditions around the Silurian Ireviken Event using the carbon isotope composition of bulk and palynomorph organic matter

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Abstract

The carbon isotope composition (δ13C) of bulk organic matter and two palynomorph groups (scolecodonts and chitinozoans) from the Llandovery-Wenlock strata of Gotland (E Sweden) are compared to gain knowledge about carbon cycling in the Silurian (sub)tropical shelf environment. The δ13C values of the palynomorphs are mostly lower than the δ13C values of the bulk organic matter, and the δ13C values of the benthic scolecodonts are lower than those of the planktonic chitinozoans. While the difference between bulk and palynomorph δ13C may be in part a function of trophic state, the lower values of the scolecodonts relative to those of chitinozoans, which are assumed to live in the well-mixed water column, might imply an infaunal mode of life for the polychaetes that carried the scolecodonts. Lower δ13C for the scolecodonts in the middle of the section may represent variations in primary marine productivity (supported by acritarch abundance data), oxidation of organic matter in the bottom waters, or genera effects. In general, however, trends between the three data sets are parallel, indicating similarities in the low frequency, environmentally forced controls. The δ13C data show a decreasing trend from the base of the section, up to a horizon well below the base of the Upper Visby Formation. At this level, and therefore probably several 10 kyr before the δ13C increase in the carbonates, the δ13C organic values increase by ~1‰. This perhaps is an expression of a changed composition of the bulk organic matter associated with the extinction events prior to the Llandovery-Wenlock boundary.

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