Senckenberg Research

Backround and aims

The Mid-Paleozoic represents a time when significant changes took place in terms of evolutionary development as well as in biochemical cycling and climate changes. Several severe bio-events are evident and continental glaciations are known during the Late Devonian (Famennian, middle Siphonodella praesulcata conodont zone) and the Early Carboniferous (Mid- to Late Tournaisian). Global cooling is already suggested at the Frasnian/Famennian boundary based on declining CO2 levels. Another important step in terms of climate, sedimentology and ecosystem evolution was attributed to the global increase in terrestrial biomass, which enhanced carbon burial with possible global effects on carbon budgets and atmospheric pCO2. Increasing colonization of the land by plants in combination with soil-forming processes and changing runoff led to major changes of sediment input into the marine system. Both, rapid evolution of terrestrial ecosystems and climate change had a pronounced influence on sedimentation and biodiversity not only in the terrestrial but also in the marine realm. These transformations resulted in a diverse series of ecological turnovers and extinction events, together with pronounced geochemical signatures in the marine record, which are characterized by short-term perturbations in the global carbon cycle. Furthermore, the Mid Paleozoic was also a time of dramatic paleogeographic changes, such as the Variscan orogeny. The configuration of continental blocks provides data concerning the extent and duration of a major equatorial ocean during the Middle Paleozoic. Oceanic circulation patterns may have had a profound influence on biodiversity and perhaps on climate change as is the case today. Climate changes whether they resulted from variations in Paleozoic atmospheric CO2 levels or not have had an impact on reef develpoment. Whereas Early Devonian reefs are mainly composed of microbial communities, Middle Devonian reefs are dominated by coral-stromatoporoid  reef communities. Microbial communities started again to florish during the Frasnian and were widespread in the Famennian. Therefore, a high-quality record of fossils in terms of assemblages or ecological-evolutionary units, sediments and geochemical data is necessary to provide quantitative estimates of paleoclimate and indicate the temporal scales of paleoclimate processes. To achieve these goals, for example calibration of stable isotope data with sedimentologic and paleontologic data is necessary. In this respect paleontology has been a key component in paleoclimatic research because fossils, together with sedimentary rocks, are the repository of nearly all paleoclimatic data, particularly quantitative data, for example stable isotopes are most commonly measured from fossils (e.g. conodonts, brachiopods, ostracodes, foraminifera etc.). On the other hand, understanding the evolution (taxonomy and systematics), paleobiology, and paleoecology of organisms is vital to paleoclimate interpretations of stable isotope records.

The primary goal of this project is to assess the intensity of climate change (e.g., CO2-temperature coupling) and biodiversity response of the Mid Paleozoic in marine and terrestrial sequences. In addition to general diversity patterns of different fossil groups, we will study three distinctive intervals in detail, which should document biodiversity and the intensity of evolutionary-pressure during (1) greenhouse (Givetian), (2) beginning climate change (Early-Middle Frasnian; e.g. punctata-Zone) and (3) icehouse conditions (Late Famennian–Tournaisian).
Related to this study, a network of taxonomic workers will be established, which will help to update the systematics of Mid-Paleozoic terrestrial and marine organisms. These datasets will be made available to the public by using existing e-infrastructures such as the Paleobiology Database.

Work on understanding the complex interactions mentioned above will be addressed in successive steps over the five years (2011-2015):


  • organization of key project activities and establishment of the secretariat
  • organization and construction of project website
  • fostering network and establishment of working groups
  • first attempt to provide comprehensive data for Palaeobiology database
  • organization of forthcomming meetings
  • this year we will focus our research on biodiversity patterns of different fossil groups in the Mid-Palaeozoic

  • the third year will focus on geochemical proxies in the Mid-Palaeozoic

  • in the fourth year we will focus on the evolutionary patterns and palaeoecology of the Mid-Paleozoic

  • in the last year we will compile results on Mid-Palaeozoic climate changes and biodiversity respond and final synthesis


A host of IGCP 596 related field trips and symposia have already been scheduled (see link “meetings” on the left side), but we would love to hear of anyone interested in hosting further activities, such as regional meetings.