Scaled biotic disruption during early Eocene global warming events
Late Paleocene and early Eocene hyperthermals are transient warming events associated with massive perturbations of the global carbon cycle, and are considered partial analogues for current anthropogenic climate change. Because the magnitude of carbon release varied between the events, they are natural experiments ideal for exploring the relationship between carbon cycle perturbations, climate change and biotic response. Here we quantify marine biotic variability through three million years of the early Eocene that include five hyperthermals, utilizing a method that allows us to integrate the records of different plankton groups through scenarios ranging from background to major extinction events. Our long time-series calcareous nannoplankton record indicates a scaling of biotic disruption to climate change associated with the amount of carbon released during the various hyperthermals. Critically, only the three largest hyperthermals, the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), Eocene Thermal Maximum 2 (ETM2) and the I1 event, show above-background variance, suggesting that the magnitude of carbon input and associated climate change needs to surpass a threshold value to cause significant biotic disruption.