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PaleolimnologyThe History and Evolution of Lake Systems$
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Andrew S. Cohen

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195133530

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195133530.001.0001

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Paleolimnology in Deep Time: The Evolution of Lacustrine Ecosystems

Paleolimnology in Deep Time: The Evolution of Lacustrine Ecosystems

(p.380) 14 Paleolimnology in Deep Time: The Evolution of Lacustrine Ecosystems

Andrew S. Cohen

Oxford University Press

Most lakes are geologically ephemeral; even the longest-lived individual lakes persist only for tens of millions of years. However there is a continuity to lake systems that transcends the geologically short history of individual lake basins. This continuity comes from the long-term biological evolution of life in freshwater, and fittingly, forms the final subject of this treatment of paleolimnology. Like the oceans, lakes have provided habitats for living organisms for most of the earth’s history. Yet the patterns of aquatic ecosystem evolution in rivers and lakes have differed dramatically from those of the oceans. In large part this can be traced to the fundamentally ephemeral nature of most continental aquatic habitats and the ‘‘disconnectedness’’ in both time and space that exists between individual lakes and rivers compared with the world ocean. This pattern of temporal and spatial patchiness in water body distribution on the continents has shaped the evolution of lacustrine species and communities. Some understanding of this history can be gleaned from the study of modern ecology and molecular genetics of living freshwater organisms. But to understand long-term trends in lacustrine biodiversity and their relationship to the history of the lacustrine environment we must turn to the pre- Quaternary fossil record. Understanding this history, the timing and tempo of major species diversification and extinction events, and the evolution of key ecological innovations is critical for correctly interpreting ancient lake deposits. The fossil record of pre-Quaternary lakes is more difficult to interpret than that of more recent lake basins. Robust phylogenies are largely unavailable for clades of ancient lacustrine fossils, hindering our ability to test hypotheses of evolutionary ecology, although that situation hopefully will improve in coming years. Many major clades of fossil lacustrine organisms are extinct, and ecologies must be inferred from their depositional context. Even for organisms that have close-living relatives, our certainty in making inferences about habitat and relationship with other species weakens as we go back in time. Also the record we have to work with deteriorates with age, the result of (a) a declining volume of lake beds available for study with increasing age, (b) difficulties associated with processing lithified lake beds for their fossil content, and (c) an increasing likelihood of destruction by diagenesis with increasing age.

Keywords:   Acanthodians, Biomass, Calcium carbonate, Deltas, Detritus feeder (detritivore), Elasmobranchs, Facies, Hemiptera

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