Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Coupled nitrate and phosphate availability facilitated the expansion of eukaryotic life at circa 1.56 Ga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Open Access permissions



Zhipeng Wang, Xinqiang Wang, Xiaoying Shi, Dongjie Tang, Eva E. Stüeken, Huyue Song

School/Research organisations


Recent geochemical and paleontological studies have revealed a significant ocean oxygenation episode and an evolutionary leap of eukaryotes at the onset of the Mesoproterozoic. However, the potential role of nitrogen availability and its interaction with other nutrients in these environmental and biological events has not been investigated. Here we present an integrated study of nitrogen isotopes (δ15N), organic carbon isotopes (δ13Corg), and major and trace element concentrations from Member III of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation in the central North China Craton where the earliest macroscopic multicellular eukaryotic fossils were reported. The enrichments of redox‐sensitive elements (Mo, U, V), coupled with Mo‐U covariations, δ13Corg and I/(Ca+Mg), indicate that the Gaoyuzhuang Member III in the study area was deposited in largely suboxic‐anoxic environments with ephemeral occurrences of euxinia. These data reinforce previous inferences of a strongly redox stratified ocean during the early Mesoproterozoic, but a pulsed oxygenation event may result in deepening of the chemocline. The high δ15N values from the study section are interpreted as result of aerobic N cycling and the presence of a fairly stable nitrate pool in the surface oxic layer, possibly due to the combined effects of oxygenation and low primary productivity. Increased availability of nitrate could have contributed to the expansion of eukaryotic life at this time. However, our data also suggest that nitrate alone was not the only trigger. Instead, this evolutionary leap was likely facilitated by multiple environmental factors, including a rise in O2 levels and increasing supplies of phosphorus and other bio‐essential trace elements.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019JG005487
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2020

    Research areas

  • Mesoproterozoic, North China, Gaoyuzhuang Formation, Nitrogen isotope, Eukaryote evolution

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. MOVES IV. Modelling the influence of stellar XUV-flux, cosmic rays, and stellar energetic particles on the atmospheric composition of the hot Jupiter HD 189733b

    Barth, P., Helling, C., Stueeken, E. E., Bourrier, V., Mayne, N., Rimmer, P., Jardine, M. M., Vidotto, A., Wheatley, P. & Fares, R., 22 Dec 2020, (Accepted/In press) In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 15 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  2. Sedimentology and isotope geochemistry of transitional evaporitic environments within arid continental settings: from erg to saline lakes

    Pettigrew, R. P., Priddy, C., Clarke, S. M., Warke, M. R., Stüeken, E. E. & Claire, M. W., 20 Dec 2020, In: Sedimentology. Early View

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  3. A new constraint on the antiquity of ancient haloalkaliphilic green algae that flourished in a ca. 300 Ma Paleozoic lake

    Xia, L., Cao, J., Lee, C., Stüeken, E. E., Zhi, D. & Love, G. D., 16 Dec 2020, In: Geobiology.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  4. Hydrothermal vents and organic ligands sustained the Precambrian copper budget

    Stueeken, E. E., 17 Nov 2020, In: Geochemical Perspectives Letters. 16, p. 12-16

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  5. Radiation of nitrogen-metabolizing enzymes across the tree of life tracks environmental transitions in Earth history

    Parsons, C., Stueeken, E. E., Rosen, C., Mateos, K. & Anderson, R., 27 Oct 2020, In: Geobiology. Early View, 17 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

ID: 266968771