Lack of stasis in late Cenozoic marine faunas and communities, central California



Pliocene strata in the Kettleman Hills of west-central California were deposited in the broad San Joaquin embayment as a cyclic succession of parasequences during approximately three million years. Depositional environments within each cycle ranged from relatively open marine to brackish and non-marine. Although the strata were deposited in similar, recurrent environments, the fauna changed gradually rather than during brief intervals separating periods of stasis. Although environmental gradients and community structure in the Pliocene San Joaquin Embayment and in the present-day San Francisco Bay are similar, species compositions of the faunas and of parallel communities at the two sites are markedly different. In addition, times of origination and extinction of species in the Pliocene strata of the Kettleman Hills and in San Francisco Bay do not document coordinated stasis within the Late Cenozoic. In contrast, Silurian and Devonian faunas and communities of the Appalachian Basin persisted with little change in ecological-evolutionary units that lasted for up to eight million years. Relatively brief intervals of great biotic change separate these intervals of stasis. One intriguing explanation of this pattern of coordinated stasis within an ecologic-evolutionary unit is ecological locking, in which interaction between species within the community is sufficiently strong that only major changes in the environment are able to change community and faunal composition. Probably the late Cenozoic fauna underwent rapid evolution as a result of rapidly changing environmental conditions within a complex and changing shallow, inshore marine paleogeography. In contrast, coordinated stasis in the lower Paleozoic probably resulted from negligible evolution during long periods of stable to gradually changing environments in an outer shelf setting, punctuated by brief episodes of abrupt environmental change and large-scale turnover. The independent assortment of species in late Cenozoic parallel communities indicates that ecological locking did not exist.