Articles

Significance of "Tethyan" Fossils in the American Cordillera

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Science  21 Oct 1988:
Vol. 242, Issue 4877, pp. 385-391
DOI: 10.1126/science.242.4877.385

Abstract

Equatorial faunas of the ancient Tethyan seaway, which extended from western Europe to southeastern Asia, comprise some of the most diverse marine taxa in the fossil record. Comparable or identical "Tethyan" species that occur far from the Tethyan seaway in Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks of the North and South American Cordillera have long been considered as a major biogeographic anomaly. Two leading theories to account for the occurrence of these anomalous "Tethyan" faunas in the Cordillera are that they were transported long distances to the east on tectonic blocks(suspect terranes that originated near the Tethys) or that they migrated westward via undiscovered marine corridors through continental areas of Pangea. An alternative model is that these "Tethyan" fauna were pantropic species that extended with attenuated diversities into the eastern proto-Pacific Ocean. This pantropic model can better account for the distribution patterns of many Paleozoic and early Mesozoic "Tethyan" species in the American Cordillera and provides a steady state hypothesis against which the other models can be tested. The distribution of pre-Cretaceous "Tethyan" faunas is similar to the known pantropic distribution of many Cretaceous and Cenozoic tropical biotas. During the Cenozoic, taxa were most diverse in the Tethys and Indo-West Pacific regions but extended with attenuated diversity to many parts of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, including the west coasts of North and South America. The eastern Pacific occurrence of many Indo-West Pacific species provides a modern analog for the occurrence of many anomalous "Tethyan" fossils in the American Cordillera.