Nitrate limitation in early Neoproterozoic oceans delayed the ecological rise of eukaryotes


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American Association for the Advancement of Science


The early Neoproterozoic Era witnessed the initial ecological rise of eukaryotes at ca. 800 Ma. To assess whether nitrate availability played an important role in this evolutionary event, we measured nitrogen isotope compositions (δ15N) of marine carbonates from the early Tonian (ca. 1000 Ma to ca. 800 Ma) Huaibei Group in North China. The data reported here fill a critical gap in the δ15N record and indicate nitrate limitation in early Neoproterozoic oceans. A compilation of Proterozoic sedimentary δ15N data reveals a stepwise increase in δ15N values at ~800 Ma. Box model simulations indicate that this stepwise increase likely represents a ~50% increase in marine nitrate availability. Limited nitrate availability in early Neoproterozoic oceans may have delayed the ecological rise of eukaryotes until ~800 Ma when increased nitrate supply, together with other environmental and ecological factors, may have contributed to the transition from prokaryote-dominant to eukaryote-dominant marine ecosystems.