The origin and diversification of pteropods precede past perturbations in the Earth’s carbon cycle

Pteropods are a group of planktonic gastropods that are widely regarded as biological indicators for assessing the impacts of ocean acidification. Their aragonitic shells are highly sensitive to acute changes in ocean chemistry. However, to gain insight into their potential to adapt to current climate change, we need to accurately reconstruct their evolutionary history and assess their responses to past changes in the Earth’s carbon cycle. Here, we resolve the phylogeny and timing of pteropod evolution with a phylogenomic dataset (2,654 genes) incorporating new data for 21 pteropod species and revised fossil evidence. In agreement with traditional taxonomy, we recovered molecular support for a division between “sea butterflies” (Thecosomata; mucus-web feeders) and “sea angels” (Gymnosomata; active predators). Molecular dating demonstrated that these two lineages diverged in the early Cretaceous, and that all main pteropod clades, including shelled, partially-shelled, and unshelled groups, diverged in the mid- to late Cretaceous. Hence, these clades originated prior to and subsequently survived major global change events, including the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), the closest analog to modern-day ocean acidification and warming. Our findings indicate that planktonic aragonitic calcifiers have shown resilience to perturbations in the Earth’s carbon cycle over evolutionary timescales.

Peijnenburg K. T. C. A.,  Janssen A. W., Wall-Palmer D., Goetze E., Maas A. E., Todd J. A. & Marlétaz F., in press. The origin and diversification of pteropods precede past perturbations in the Earth’s carbon cycle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Article.

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