Devonian rise in atmospheric oxygen correlated to the radiations of terrestrial plants and large predatory fish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The evolution of Earth's biota is intimately linked to the oxygenation of the oceans and atmosphere. We use the isotopic composition and concentration of molybdenum (Mo) in sedimentary rocks to explore this relationship. Our results indicate two episodes of global ocean oxygenation. The first coincides with the emergence of the Ediacaran fauna, including large, motile bilaterian animals, ca. 550-560 million year ago (Ma), reinforcing previous geochemical indications that Earth surface oxygenation facilitated this radiation. The second, perhaps larger, oxygenation took place around 400 Ma, well after the initial rise of animals and, therefore, suggesting that early metazoans evolved in a relatively low oxygen environment. This later oxygenation correlates with the diversification of vascular plants, which likely contributed to increased oxygenation through the enhanced burial of organic carbon in sediments. It also correlates with a pronounced radiation of large predatory fish, animals with high oxygen demand. We thereby couple the redox history of the atmosphere and oceans to major events in animal evolution.


  • Tais W Dahl
  • Emma U Hammarlund
  • Ariel D. Anbar
  • David P G Bond
  • Benjamin C Gill
  • Gwyneth W Gordon
  • Andrew H Knoll
  • Arne T. Nielsen
  • Niels H Schovsbo
  • Donald E Canfield
External organisations
  • Harvard University
  • University of Southern Denmark
  • Swedish Museum of Natural History
  • Stockholm University
Research areas and keywords


  • Animals, Atmosphere, Fishes, Oxygen, Plants, Predatory Behavior, Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't, Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17911-5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Oct 19
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes