It has been argued that the successive appearance of a distinct set of test morphologies by planktic foraminifera represents evidence for the multiple evolution of mechanical optima (Steineck and Fleisher, 1978). However, morphometric, isotopic and biostratigraphic analyses of the globigerine speciesSubbotina linaperta from Middle-Late Eocene Atlantic Ocean deep sea cores suggests that changes in developmental pathways may also play an important role in planktic foraminiferal evolution. During a period of prolonged and global change in the Middle-Late Eocene marine environment, at least one western Atlantic population ofS. linaperta was characterized by a marked decrease in mean test size that persisted throughout the remainder of this species' teilzone. In addition, this Late Eocene population exhibited anomalous relative abundances and a pronounced change in depth habitat when compared to conspecific populations in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. Quantitative morphometric analyses indicate the observed size reduction to be a secondary result of selection for the ontogenetically accelerated attainment of sexual maturity; a mode of developmentally mediated evolution termed progenesis. The temporal persistence of this progenetically dwarfed population throughout the remainder of the Late Eocene at this locality serves to illustrate the potential of this evolutionary mechanism to produce sustained morphological and ecological changes within populations of marine plankton as well as implying that this population was at least partially isolated from the general circulation of the Gulf Stream during this time interval. In addition, similarities between the nature of phenotypic change in this population and the common anecdotal observation of test size reduction in a number of planktic foraminiferal lineages at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary and during the Paleogene-Neogene faunal transition suggest that selection for different developmental patterns may provide an alternative explanation for the reappearance of simple globigerine morphotypes after major planktic foraminiferal extinction events.
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