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The rise and fall of the Malvinoxhosan (Malvinokaffric) bioregion in South Africa: Evidence for Early-Middle Devonian biocrises at the South Pole

Penn-Clarke, Cameron R.; Harper, David A.T.

The rise and fall of the Malvinoxhosan (Malvinokaffric) bioregion in South Africa: Evidence for Early-Middle Devonian biocrises at the South Pole Thumbnail


Cameron R. Penn-Clarke


Global reconstructions, inclusive of environments and ecosystems, and biodiversity counts for the Devonian Period are often done so at the expense of high latitude regions given a historical lack of data presented from these areas. This has bearing on the recognition of biocrises (events marked by extinctions and faunal turnovers) at high latitudes as well as their controls and potential correlation with global, regional, and local tempos. The appearance and disappearance of high-latitude endemic Malvinoxhosan (synonymous with the “Malvinokaffric Realm” which it supersedes) marine invertebrate faunas from West Gondwana are often overlooked, in part owing to difficulties in correlating fossil-bearing strata with global frameworks given the absence and rarity of several key index taxa as well as detailed biostratigraphic appraisals in which to draw regional interbasinal correlations and comparisons. The Early to Middle Devonian Series of South Africa (upper Table Mountain, Bokkeveld and lower Witteberg groups) are a classic Malvinoxhosan-bearing section recording the rise of these endemic faunas, as well as their decline and replacement by cosmopolitan faunas. A detailed biostratigraphy of this interval was created following an assessment of fossil material curated at the Council for Geoscience and Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town as well as from literature. These data suggest that the Malvinoxhosan bioregion persisted as a cohesive unit during Rietvlei-Baviaanskloof to Waboomberg deposition (Pragian/Emsian-early Givetian) given that many representative taxa are found in these strata, however showing a trend of decreasing diversity with little origination through time. Above this interval, few representative taxa are known to continue into the upper Bokkeveld and Witteberg groups, disappearing entirely by the deposition of the Blinkberg Formation. The few fossils that are known in these strata and those succeeding it (e.g., the Swartruggens Formation) are entirely cosmopolitan in identity. Using novel multivariate statistical methods (non-metric multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis) in conjunction with network analysis (NA), the data were interrogated to indicate potential groupings of strata according to their fossil content as well as to track faunal changes through time. These analyses suggest the presence of at least seven to eight interval assemblage biozones housed within at least three larger faunal complexes (Eo-Malvinoxhosan, Malvinoxhosan and Post-Malvinoxhosan) based on their constituent faunal makeup. A closer inspection of these faunal complexes and interval assemblage biozones show a stepped decline in biodiversity with little to no origination and recovery through time that may be correlated with local base-level change at varying orders of magnitude. Declines in biodiversity show selectivity for taxa with epifaunal and semi-infaunal habits with respect to infaunal, deep infaunal and nektonic taxa. Environmental conditions associated with the collapse of the Malvinoxhosan bioregion are thought to have been catastrophic as few new (often short-ranging) immigrants are registered in Post-Malvinoxhosan strata. Further to this, those faunas that are prevalent in Post-Malvinoxhosan strata (e.g., Tropidoleptus) those with known high environmental tolerance and were already present in the region prior to the collapse of the Malvinoxhosan bioregion. Lastly, the observed biodiversity changes in South Africa with respect to local base-level show remarkable similarities with several time equivalent locales in South America suggesting that the decline and extinction of the Malvinoxhosan biota was regional and that the biostratigraphy presented herein has regional application. Here, it is thought regional tectonic controls are suggested to have brought on sea-level changes and entrained warmer waters into higher latitudes against the backdrop of overall rising temperatures from the late Givetian onwards. Whilst the decline of the Malvinoxhosan bioregion might associated with global Middle Devonian biocrises (e.g., Kačák; Taghanic) insufficient age constraints for these strata are available at present to make direct comparisons. Furthermore, an adequate driver for global sea-level change during the Devonian Period, needs to be established to tease out global and local signals in constructed local sea-level curves to establish if these changes (and their effects in changes in biodiversity) are truly global in extent.


Penn-Clarke, C. R., & Harper, D. A. (2023). The rise and fall of the Malvinoxhosan (Malvinokaffric) bioregion in South Africa: Evidence for Early-Middle Devonian biocrises at the South Pole. Earth-Science Reviews, 246, Article 104595.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 9, 2023
Online Publication Date Oct 13, 2023
Publication Date 2023-11
Deposit Date Jan 15, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jan 15, 2024
Journal Earth-Science Reviews
Print ISSN 0012-8252
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 246
Article Number 104595
Keywords General Earth and Planetary Sciences
Public URL


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