Evolution, Radiations, and Extinctions in Proterozoic to Mid-Paleozoic Reefs

Part of the Topics in Geobiology book series (TGBI, volume 17)


Reefs have an immensely long fossil record: those built by prokaryotes (Eubacteria and Archaea) have been with us for over 3 billion years, at a time when the atmosphere was enormously enriched in CO2 (possibly as much as the 95–98% CO2 atmospheres of the nearest planets Mars and Venus) and virtually devoid of oxygen. Skeletal reefs built by single-celled or multicellular CaCO3 prokaryotes and simple eukaryotes (i.e., calcimicrobes) have been here since the Late Proterozoic (ca 1 billion-700 million years ago), and metazoan reefs, built by multicellular animals often in conjunction with calcimicrobes, have been here for the last half billion (ca 530 million years ago: Fig. 1). In the 180 million year time interval spanning the appearance of the first metazoan-calcimicrobe reef consortium of the Early Cambrian to the close of the Middle Paleozoic (Devonian) tropical reef ecosystem, with abundant corals and other biota, metazoan reefs survived three global mass extinctions, each of which at least temporarily reset their ecological and in part evolutionary “clocks.” Moreover, by the close of the Devonian, land areas adjacent to reefs were occupied by tropical pteridophyte rainforests, pumping up atmospheric levels of oxygen to near-modern levels, adding another dimension to coastal erosion, sediment supply, and fluctuating greenhouse to icehouse climates, thus providing new controls and new settings for reef growth.


Mass Extinction Lower Cambrian Late Ordovician Tabulate Coral Sponge Reef 
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© Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesLaurentian UniversitySudburyCanada

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