High-resolution carbon isotope stratigraphy and mammalian faunal change at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary in the Honeycombs area of the southern Bighorn Basin, Wyoming

Johan Yans, Suzanne G. Strait, Thierry Smith, Christian Dupuis, Etienne Steurbaut, Philip D. Gingerich

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    The Paleocene-Eocene boundary is defined chemostratigraphically by the onset of a 100 kyr global carbon isotope excursion (CIE) that is recognized in marine and continental strata in both carbonate and dispersed organic carbon. The CIE is important in continental sections as a proxy for environmental change during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM), which clearly affected faunal succession in Paleocene-Eocene mammals. At Polecat Bench in the northern Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, the CIE is in the Willwood Formation, where it spans four mammalian biozones from part of latest Clarkforkian Cf-3, through early Wasatchian Wa-M (Meniscotherium), Wa-0, and part of Wa-1. Here we report a new high-resolution study of the CIE recorded in dispersed organic carbon of the basal Willwood Formation in the Honeycombs area of the southern Bighorn Basin. In the Honeycombs area, 58 isotope sample sites span a vertical section of 71 meters, including the Wa-M locality 'Halfway Hill North' with both Meniscotherium and a Heptodon-like perissodactyl, and the richly fossiliferous Wa-0 wash site 'Castle Gardens' yielding a diverse mammalian fauna. Total organic carbon in the Honeycombs section is in the range of 0.1 to 0.4 percent by weight, and CaCO3 is notably lacking except in the Castle Gardens interval where it reaches ca. 3 percent. Pre- and post-excursion values of δ13 Corg (PDB) range from -26.2 to -24.1 permil. The Honeycombs CIE is about 42 m thick, and CIE excursion values range from -28.8 to -26.2 permil. The Honeycombs are a is important because the Halfway Hill North locality is the first to yield a perissodactyl from the Wa-M Meniscotherium zone, and the Castle Gardens wash site is the first to yield abundant evidence of Wa-0 zone microvertebrates. As at Polecat Bench, the Meniscotherium zone in the Honeycombs area is in the lower part of the CIE, and Castle Gardens and other Wa-0 sites are in the longer middle and upper parts, starting near or after the maximum negative excursion. The CIE at Polecat Bench includes a series of 5 to 6 negative-excursion landmarks that are spaced, on average, about 8.5 m apart. These are tentatively interpreted as 21-kyr orbital precession cycles like those inferred for paleosol color. Negative-excursion landmarks are present in the Honeycombs CIE as well, but these are fewer and part of the Honeycombs section may be condensed or missing. Full understanding of the Paleocene-Eocene biotic transition will require investigation at even finer scales of temporal resolution, and results reported here suggest that finer-scale studies should be possible.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)712-735
    Number of pages24
    JournalAmerican Journal of Science
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2006


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