Expanded Florida reef development during the mid-Pliocene warm period

Research paper by James S. Klaus, John F. Meeder, Donald F. McNeill, Jon F. Woodhead, Peter K. Swart

Indexed on: 09 Mar '17Published on: 10 Feb '17Published in: Global and Planetary Change


The coral fauna of the Tamiami Formation documents a northern expansion of reef development along the Florida Peninsula during the mid-Pliocene warm period (MPWP). Radiometric dating (U-Pb) of Solenastrea bournoni produced an age of 2.99 ± 0.11 Ma, constraining reef development to the MPWP and the peak of Plio-Pleistocene faunal turnover; subsequent to the final closure of the Central American Seaway (CAS) but prior to major Northern Hemisphere Glaciation (NHG). Coral faunal analyses are based on a total of 1614 coral specimens collected along a 165 km stretch of the west Florida coast, and included rarefaction and detrended correspondence analysis (DCA). A total of 60 coral species occur within the Tamiami Formation, with faunal assemblages ranging from 42 to 87% extinct taxa. The Tamiami collections can be split into a southern “reef” assemblage with high diversity of stenotopic taxa and a northern “non-reef” assemblage with lower diversity eurytopic taxa. The southern reef assemblage contains framework buildups of the dominant tropical taxa Stylophora affinis, Orbicella annularis, and Acropora cervicornis. We interpret enhanced west Florida reef development during the middle Pliocene to be a product of more equitable sea surface temperatures, and reduced salinity fluctuations associated with higher sea levels. While mean sea surface temperature estimates based on oxygen isotopic analysis of the coral Solenastrea bournoni (25.3 °C) are similar to present day values (26 °C), a completely flooded southern Florida Platform in the Pliocene would be less prone to salinity fluctuations associated with coastal runoff and extreme cold-water events during winter storms. While higher latitude range shifts of tropical reef corals associated with current global climate change have been documented elsewhere in the world, we do not foresee the West Florida Shelf being conducive to significant range shifts in tropical coral taxa or reef development within the coming century.

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