At a glance, progress in palaeontology and eustatic reconstructions in the past decade permits to prove or to disprove the possible dependence of Palaeozoic brachiopod generic diversity dynamics on global sea-level changes. However, the available diversity curve is of much lower resolution than the eustatic curve. This problem can be resolved by decreasing the resolution of the latter. The other restriction linked to the chronostratigraphical incompatibility of the available data allows to focus on the Middle Palaeozoic only. A series of mass extinctions and other biotic crises in the Silurian-Devonian does not allow to interpret correctly the results of direct comparison of the brachiopod generic diversity dynamics with global sea-level changes. With the available data, it is only possible to hypothesize that the eustatic control was not playing a major part in diversity dynamics of Middle Palaeozoic brachiopods. The resolution of the stratigraphic ranges of Palaeozoic brachiopods should be increased signifcantly, and these ranges should be plotted against the most up-to-date geologic time scale. Until this task will be achieved, it is impossible to judge about the existence of any dependence (either full or partial) of the Palaeozoic brachiopod diversity dynamics on global sea-level changes.
A chain of carbonate platforms evolved in the northern Neo-Tethys during the Late Jurassic, but current knowledge remains incomplete as long as data from several larger regions, such as the Western Caucasus, are not included. In order to fill this gap, it is here suggested to reconsider the information accumulated chiefly during Soviet times. Although these data are too general, they still matter with regard to some regional characteristics and tentative interpretations. Available data on the spatio-temporal distribution of Bajocian-Callovian sedimentary rocks are summarised in a novel way which permits documentation of depositional trends at six representative localities in the Western Caucasus. The extent of the carbonate platform increased at two localities since the Late Callovian and at a third since the Middle Oxfordian. Three additional sites were characterised either by non-deposition or deep-marine sedimentation. The onset of carbonate platform development marked a remarkable shift from chiefly siliciclastic to carbonate deposition, although this event was not sudden everywhere. The Bathonian pulse of tectonic activity, coupled with the eustatic sea level rise, allowed shelves to expand during the Callovian-Oxfordian, with a reduction in siliciclastic input from islands and sea-water that became well oxygenated and warmer. These conditions were conducive to biogenic carbonate production, allowing the carbonate platform to expand subsequently.
A long-term eustatic cycle (fall and subsequent rise of the global sea level) embraced the late Silurian-Middle Devonian time interval. Potentially, these sea-level changes could drive global biodiversity. The stratigraphic ranges of 204 bivalve genera and 279 gastropod genera included into the famous Sepkoski database allow reconstructing changes in the total diversity and the number of originations and extinctions of these important groups of marine benthic macro- -invertebrates during this interval. None of the recorded parameters coincided with the long-term global sea-level cycle. It cannot be not excluded, however, that the global sea-level changes did not affect the regions favourable for bivalve and gastropod radiation because of regional tectonic mechanisms; neither can it be excluded that the eustatic control persisted together with many other extrinsic and intrinsic controls. Interestingly, the generic diversity of gastropods increased together with a cooling trend, and vice versa. Additionally, the Ludlow, Eifelian, and Givetian biotic crises affected, probably, both fossil groups under study. There was also a coincidence of the relatively high bivalve generic diversity, initial radiation of gastropods and the entire biota, and the diversification of brachiopods with the Early Devonian global sea-level lowstand, and this may be interpreted as evidence of a certain eustatic control on the marine biodiversity.
Possible plate tectonic controls on faunal diversity dynamics have been discussed in the geological literature for around 50 years. The new model of plate tectonic processes is here linked to Jurassic generic diversity (simple α-diversity) of brachiopods. This comparison offers three observations, four hypotheses and three unresolved issues. Most importantly, changes in the global plate root mean square speed coincided with brachiopod diversity dynamics, which can be explained hypothetically by either environmental disturbance triggered by more active plate motion or activity of any process (such as eustasy) tied to plate tectonic mechanisms and with an impact on marine benthic communities. It is also established that global generic diversity dynamics of brachiopods during the Jurassic coincided with the regional picture as established for the Northern Caucasus and the Swiss Jura Alps; this coincidence is difficult to explain with regard to plate tectonics. These and other speculative considerations do not clarify the role of the plate tectonic factor in Jurassic generic diversity dynamics of brachiopods, and, thus, they indicate important issues for further research.
Available reconstructions of Jurassic global sea level changes differ and are in need of an update. New stratigraphical charts and palaeogeographical developments for a number of large continental blocks or their portions of these (e.g., Germany, India, northeast Africa, northwest Australia, the Russian Platform and western Siberia) reveal regional long-term shoreline shifts (i.e., transgressions and regressions) during the Bajocian Stage (168.3–170.3 Ma). A comparison of these allows to document only a single coherent feature, namely the earliest Bajocian transgression, in the majority of the continental blocks considered. Undoubtedly, this event was triggered by a eustatic rise. However, long-term shoreline shifts were either weak to absent or differed between the blocks during almost the entire Bajocian, thus providing evidence of the apparent stability of global sea level and the importance of regional tectonic activity as a control mechanism on particular transgressions and regressions. Interestingly, it appears that the earliest Bajocian eustatic rise was a constituent of a long-term eustatic pattern; the nature of this event has yet to be fully understood. Generally, the findings presented here are in better agreement with Anthony Hallam’s view of Jurassic eustasy and question some other global sea level reconstructions.
The challenge of reconstructing the Phanerozoic sea level and the Pacific Basin tectonics
The relationships between the interior dynamics of our planet and global sea level can be unravelled when plate-tectonic reconstructions are available for the entire Earth. A review of global tectonics reveals significant deficiencies in our understanding of the geodynamic evolution of the Pacific (Panthalassa or Proto-Pacific) during the Cambrian-Jurassic time-span. This particular, but major, shortcoming presents a true challenge for modern geoscientists, who are encouraged to produce a detailed plate-tectonic reconstruction of the Pacific for the pre-Cretaceous in order to advance our understanding of Phanerozoic sea-level change. A set of approaches, including geological/geophysical modelling, investigation of accretionary prisms, palaeobiogeographical studies, and careful examination of eustatic sea-level changes, are proposed that will help geoscientists tackle the challenge of understanding how Pacific geodynamics affected global sea level during the Phanerozoic.
Megaclasts are sedimentary particles larger than boulders. Their huge size and scattered occurrence make them objects that deserve geological heritage, requiring conservation. Investigation of megaclasts for the purpose faces difficulties because of the distinction between boulders and megaclasts. Local study of Quaternary large stones in Mountainous Adygeja (W Caucasus, SW Russia) suggests ~ 2 m as a suitable size criterion, although only locally. Shape, occurrence, and origin of megaclasts require additional attention.
Geoconservation may result in anthropogenic disturbances of the natural landscape through removal of vegetation, access constructions, and restoration. The geotourism potential of megaclasts is partly determined by their huge size and their rare and scattered occurrence. Aesthetic qualities, local legends, and co-occurrence with prehistoric megalithic constructions increase this potential. The Maiden’s Stone in Mountainous Adygeja, which is ~ 35 m long, has been a tourist attraction already for decades. It is an impressive example of geoconconservation and geotourism connected with megaclasts. Generally, megaclasts increase the value (including the scientific importance) of the geological heritage of Mountainous Adygeja, where a geopark might be established.
The current growth in geotourism requires an urgent development of classifications of geological features on the basis of criteria that are relevant to tourist perceptions. It appears that structure-related patterns are especially attractive for geotourists. Consideration of the main criteria by which tourists judge beauty and observations made in the geodiversity hotspot of the Western Caucasus allow us to propose a tentative aesthetics-based classification of geological structures in outcrops, with two classes and four subclasses. It is possible to distinguish between regular and quasi-regular patterns (i.e., striped and lined and contorted patterns) and irregular and complex patterns (paysage and sculptured patterns). Typical examples of each case are found both in the study area and on a global scale. The application of the proposed classification permits to emphasise features of interest to a broad range of tourists. Aesthetics-based (i.e., non-geological) classifications are necessary to take into account visions and attitudes of visitors.
Geological heritage can contribute to our understanding of the long-term evolution of important sectors of our planet. Cretaceous–Neogene rocks (chiefly carbonates) crop out in the Nowdan anticline of the Zagros orogen. Field investigations have permitted the establishment of 10 key localities (stratigraphical reference sections) that represent these rocks within this anticline, which is a single large geosite. The formations are related to the main phases in the evolution of the northeastern sector of the African–Arabian continental margin. For instance, carbonate rocks of the Asmari Formation mark changes in the affinity of the study area, from the African–Arabian plate to only the Arabian plate, separated in conjunction with Red Sea rifting during the Oligocene. Information on the palaeogeographical changes is really precious to geoscientists and geotourists alike, and contributes to the great value of the Nowdan anticline geosite. Evidence from the latter, as well as from a few other places (i.e., the Mountainous Adygeya geodiversity hotspot in Russia, the North Coast of São Paulo in Brazil and the possible Gondwanan geopark in Namibia) illustrates the necessity of distinguishing a palaeomapping subtype in palaeogeographical characterisation of geological heritage.