Disaster opportunists Guembelitrinidae: Index for environmental catastrophes

Gerta Keller, Alfonso Pardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Blooms of the disaster opportunist Guembelitria species are proxies for environmental catastrophes, whether impact or volcanism, leading to severe biotic stress crises that may range from temporary exclusion of ecological specialists and generalists to mass extinctions. During the late Maastrichtian and early Danian (zones P0 and Pla), Guembelitria blooms show global distributions, but with the largest blooms (40-80% Guembelitria) in low and middle latitudes and only minor blooms (10-20%) in high latitudes. Late Maastrichtian Guembelitria blooms are, so far, known from the Indian Ocean and eastern Tethys. The most intense Guembelitria blooms (>60% Guembelitria) occurred in shallow continental shelf areas, slope/shelf margins and volcanic provinces of the Indian Ocean. What these environments have in common is high nutrient influx (eutrophication) either from continental runoff, upwelling along continental margins or volcanic input. At times of biotic crises, Guembelitria blooms may have spread rapidly to the exclusion of most or all other species, much like today's red tides, but with near global distributions. A simple model can explain the ecological succession and recovery phases that follow major biotic perturbations caused by impacts or volcanism that lead to exclusion of specialist and most generalist species. Within such highly stressed environments, Guembelitria is the only genus to thrive, and without competition, rapidly reproduce and exponentially increase their populations. When nutrients are depleted, populations rapidly decrease, leading to ecologic niches for other generalists and ecosystem recovery. Small low-O2-tolerant heterohelicid populations mark this second stage, followed by small trochospiral and planispiral species. With further environmental recovery, increasing competition, niche development and restoration of a well-stratified water mass, oligotrophic conditions are restored, opening habitats for the highly specialized and diverse species and a return to normal diverse assemblages. This ecological succession is observed in association with mantle plume volcanism in the Indian Ocean and eastern Tethys during the late Maastrichtian, and in association with the K-T impact and volcanism during the early Tertiary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-116
Number of pages34
JournalMarine Micropaleontology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology


  • Guembelitria blooms
  • K-T
  • Volcanism
  • impacts
  • late Maastrichtian


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