Tracking the rise of eukaryotes to ecological dominance with zinc isotopes

Terry Isson, Gordon Love, Christopher Dupont, Chistopher Reinhard, Alex Zumberge, Dan Asael, Bleuenn Gueguen, John McCrow, Ben Gill, Jeremy Owens, Robert Rainbird, Alan Rooney, Ming-Yu Zhao, Eva E. Stueeken, Kurt Konhauser, Seth John, Timothy Lyons, Noah Planavsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The biogeochemical cycling of zinc (Zn) is intimately coupled with organic carbon in the ocean. Based on an extensive new sedimentary Zn isotope record across Earth's history, we provide evidence for a fundamental shift in the marine Zn cycle ~800 million years ago. We discuss a wide range of potential drivers for this transition and propose that, within available constraints, a restructuring of marine ecosystems is the most parsimonious explanation for this shift. Using a global isotope mass balance approach, we show that a change in the organic Zn/C ratio is required to account for observed Zn isotope trends through time. Given the higher affinity of eukaryotes for Zn relative to prokaryotes, we suggest that a shift toward a more eukaryote‐rich ecosystem could have provided a means of more efficiently sequestering organic‐derived Zn. Despite the much earlier appearance of eukaryotes in the microfossil record (~1700 to 1600 million years ago), our data suggest a delayed rise to ecological prominence during the Neoproterozoic, consistent with the currently accepted organic biomarker records.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-352
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • Carbon cycle
  • Earth history
  • Eukaryotes
  • Marine productivity
  • Ocean chemistry
  • Zinc
  • Zinc isotopes


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