Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Proceedings of The Royal Society B 275:1652 (December 7, 2008), pp. 2675–2685; doi 10.1098/rspb.2008.0801 Copyright © 2008 The Royal Society. Used by permission.


As the earth faces a warming climate, the rock record reminds us that comparable climatic scenarios have occurred before. In the Late Cretaceous, Arctic marine organisms were not subject to frigid temperatures but still contended with seasonal extremes in photoperiod. Here, we describe an unusual fossil assemblage from Devon Island, Arctic Canada, that offers a snapshot of a ca 75 MYR ago marine paleoecosystem adapted to such conditions. Thick siliceous biogenic sediments and glaucony sands reveal remarkably persistent high primary productivity along a high-latitude Late Cretaceous coastline. Abundant fossil feces demonstrate that this planktonic bounty supported benthic invertebrates and large, possibly seasonal, vertebrates in short food chains. These ancient organisms filled trophic roles comparable to those of extant Arctic species, but there were fundamental differences in resource dynamics. Whereas most of the modern Arctic is oligotrophic and structured by resources from melting sea ice, we suggest that forested terrestrial landscapes helped support the ancient marine community through high levels of terrigenous organic input.