The fossil record of Diadema in the Caribbean

  • Donovan S
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Lessios (2005) recently examined the population data of the Caribbean black echinoid, Diadema antillarum Philippi, from before and after the mass mortality of this species in 1983. This taxon has been the subject of numerous and diverse biological investigations, such as its general zoology (Randall et al. 1964), ecology (Ogden et al. 1973; Jackson and Kaufmann 1987), morphological adaptations (Asgaard 1985), life history (Ogden and Carpenter 1987) and feeding preferences (Solandt and Campbell 2001), among many others. More recently, it has been the subject of investigations relating to the dieoff in 1983 and recovery (or otherwise) following distribution of a virulent water-borne pathogen (Lessios 2005 and references therein). Interestingly, one aspect of the ‘zoology’ of D. antillarum that has been largely ignored is its paleontological record. This is despite its relevance to contemporary reef management strategies, which would be influenced by any valid assessment of whether the 1983 event was unique or part of a recurring cycle. Diadema is admittedly poorly known from the fossil record of the Caribbean and elsewhere. Diadematids have a very low preservation potential, as has been demonstrated by extant members of this group, particularly D. antillarum (Greenstein 1991, 1993). Shallow water regular echinoids, including diadematids, also live in exposed environments where the potential for fossilization is poor (Smith 1984). The fossil record, supported by data derived from molecular (Lessios et al. 2001) and morphological studies (Levitan 1992), offers the potential to determine the dynamics of D. antillarum populations in the Cenozoic and, thus, to permit determination as to whether it was formerly common or rare in the Antilles and if the die-off of 1983 was a unique event, or otherwise, in the history of this taxon. Some preliminary determinations are possible concerning the Cenozoic history of this group.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Caribbean
  • Cenozoic
  • Diadema antillarum
  • Fossil record
  • Jamaica
  • Pleistocene

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  • Stephen K. Donovan

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