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Keywords:

  • Acritarchs;
  • evolutionary radiation;
  • Ordovician;
  • palaeoecology;
  • phytoplankton;
  • trophic chain

The Early Palaeozoic phytoplankton (acritarch) radiation paralleled a long-term increase in sea level between the Early Cambrian and the Late Ordovician. In the Late Cambrian, after the SPICE δ13Ccarb excursion, acritarchs underwent a major change in morphological disparity and their taxonomical diversity increased to reach highest values during the Middle Ordovician (Darriwilian). This highest phytoplankton diversity of the Palaeozoic was possibly the result of palaeogeography (greatest continental dispersal) and major orogenic and volcanic activity, which provided maximum ecospace and large amounts of nutrients. With its warm climate and high atmospheric CO2 levels, the Ordovician was similar to the Cretaceous: a period when phytoplankton diversity was at its maximum during the Mesozoic. With increased phytoplankton availability in the Late Cambrian and Ordovician a radiation of zooplanktonic organisms took place at the same time as a major diversification of suspension feeders. In addition, planktotrophy originated in invertebrate larvae during the Late Cambrian–Early Ordovician. These important changes in the trophic chain can be considered as a major palaeoecological revolution (part of the rise of the Palaeozoic Evolutionary Fauna of Sepkoski). There is now sufficient evidence that this trophic chain revolution was related to the diversification of the phytoplankton, of which the organic-walled fraction is partly preserved.