▪ Abstract 

The evolutionary succession of marine photoautotrophs began with the origin of photosynthesis in the Archean Eon, perhaps as early as 3.8 billion years ago. Since that time, Earth's atmosphere, continents, and oceans have undergone substantial cyclic and secular physical, chemical, and biological changes that selected for different phytoplankton taxa. Early in the history of eukaryotic algae, between 1.6 and 1.2 billion years ago, an evolutionary schism gave rise to “green” (chlorophyll containing) and “red” (chlorophyll containing) plastid groups. Members of the “green” plastid line were important constituents of Neoproterozoic and Paleozoic oceans, and, ultimately, one green clade colonized land. By the mid-Mesozoic, the green line had become ecologically less important in the oceans. In its place, three groups of chlorophyll –containing eukaryotes, the dinoflagellates, coccolithophorids, and diatoms, began evolutionary trajectories that have culminated in ecological dominance in the contemporary oceans. Breakup of the supercontinent Pangea, continental shelf flooding, and changes in ocean redox chemistry may all have contributed to this evolutionary transition. At the same time, the evolution of these modern eukaryotic taxa has influenced both the structure of marine food webs and global biogeochemical cycles.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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