Nitrogen isotope chemostratigraphy of the Ediacaran and Early Cambrian platform sequence at Three Gorges, South China

Ryohei Kikumoto, Miyuki Tahata, Manabu Nishizawa, Yusuke Sawaki, Shigenori Maruyama, Degan Shu, Jian Han, Tsuyoshi Komiya, Ken Takai, Yuichiro Ueno

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    The appearance of multicellular animals and subsequent radiation during the Ediacaran/Cambrian transition may have significantly changed the oceanic ecosystem. Nitrogen cycling is essential for primary productivity and thus its connection to animal evolution is important for understanding the co-evolution of the Earth's environment and life. Here, we first report on coupled organic carbon and nitrogen isotope chemostratigraphy from the entire Ediacaran to Early Cambrian period by using drill core samples from the Yangtze Platform, South China. The results show that δ15NTN values were high (~+6‰) until middle Ediacaran, gradually dropping down to -1‰ at the earliest Cambrian, then rising back to +4‰ in the end of the Early Cambrian. Organic carbon and nitrogen contents widely varied with a relatively constant C/N ratio in each stratigraphic unit, and do not apparently control the carbon and nitrogen isotopic trends. These observations suggest that the δ15NTN and C/N trends mainly reflect secular changes in nitrogen cycling in the Yangtze Platform. Onset of the observed negative N isotope excursion coincided with a global carbon isotope excursion event (Shuram excursion). Before the Shuram event, the high δ15N probably reflects denitrification in a nitrate-limited oceanic condition. Also, degradation of dissolved and particulate organic matter could be an additional mechanism for the 15N-enrichment, and may have been significant when the ocean was rich in organic matter. At the time of the Shuram event, both δ13Ccarb and δ15NTN values were dropped probably due to massive re-mineralization of organic matter. This scenario is supported by an anomalously low C/N ratio, implying that enhanced respiration resulted in selective loss of carbon as CO2 with recycled organic nitrogen. After the Shuram event, the δ15N value continued to decrease despite that δ13Ccarb rose back to +4‰. The continued δ15N drop appears to have coincided with a decreasing phosphorus content in carbonate. This suggests that ocean oxygenation may have generated a more nitrate-rich condition with respect to phosphorus as a limiting nutrient. Similar to the Shuram event, another negative δ13Ccarb event in the Canglanpuan stage of the Early Cambrian is also characterized by carbon isotopic decoupling as well as the low C/N ratio. The results strongly support that the two stages of the decoupled negative δ13Ccarb excursions reflect a disappearance of a large organic carbon pool in the ocean. The two events appear to relate with the appearance of new metazoan taxa with novel feeding strategies, suggesting a link between ocean oxygenation, nutrient cycling and the appearance and adaptation of metazoans. The nitrogen isotope geochemistry is very useful to understand the link between the environmental, ecological and biological evolutions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1057-1069
    Number of pages13
    JournalGondwana Research
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


    • Cambrian
    • Chemostratigraphy
    • Ediacaran
    • Nitrogen isotopes

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geology


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