Asteroid breakup linked to the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event Academic Article uri icon


  • The rise and diversification of shelled invertebrate life in the early Phanerozoic took place in two major steps. During the Cambrian Explosion at ca. 540 Ma a large number of new phyla appeared over a short time interval. Biodiversity at the family, genus and species level, however, remained low until the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE) in the mid-Ordovician. This event represents the most intense phase of species radiation during the Paleozoic and the biological component of planet's seafloors was irreversibly changed. The causes of the GOBE remain elusive mainly because of a lack of detailed data relating faunal to environmental change. Here we show that the onset of the major phase of the GOBE coincides at ca. 470 Ma with the disruption in the asteroid belt of the L chondrite parent body, the largest documented asteroid breakup event during the last few billion years. The precise coincidence between an event in space and on Earth is established by bed-by-bed records of extraterrestrial chromite, osmium isotopes and invertebrate fossils in mid- Ordovician strata in Baltoscandia and China. We argue that frequent impacts on Earth of kilometer-sized asteroids accelerated the biodiversification. This is supported also by abundant mid-Ordovician fossil meteorites and impact craters.

publication date

  • January 2008