TR-J Carbon Isotope Excursions Caused by Global Disturbance and not by Vegetation Change

Bacon, K. L., Belcher, C. M., Hesselbo, S. P., and J. C. McElwain. 2011. The Triassic–Jurassic boundary carbon-isotope excursions expressed in taxonomically identified leaf cuticles. Palaios 26:461-469.

Abstract - A negative stable carbon-isotope excursion (CIE) has been identified at sites across the globe in strata that span the Triassic–Jurassic boundary. Different studies have suggested that this negative CIE could be the result of either a change in vegetation or a massive perturbation in the global carbon cycle at this time. To determine which, 84 hand-picked leaf cuticle fragments from plant macrofossils previously identified to genus level were analyzed for stable carbon-isotope values. The samples were taken from known heights in nine plant beds spanning the Rhaetian–Hettangian (Upper Triassic–Lower Jurassic) at Astartekløft, East Greenland. We have constructed taxon-specific stable carbon-isotope curves for Ginkgoales and Bennettitales and compared these to an existing δ13C curve based on fossil wood from the same section. This study reveals that taxon-specific carbon-isotope curves based on the leaf data from these two seed-plant groups both record the same negative CIE as the fossil wood, despite having different ecological roles and different relative abundances in the section. Correspondence analysis of the macrofossil abundance data, where the plants are considered in their ecological groups, shows that the δ13C values bear no relationship to changes in vegetation. This result further suggests that vegetation change had little role in determining the δ13C values at this time. Considered together, the bulk cuticle and taxon-specific δ13C record indicate that the negative CIE at the Triassic–Jurassic boundary is likely to have been caused by a massive perturbation of the global carbon cycle and not by vegetation change.

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