The Neogene history of Caribbean deep-sea benthic foraminifera was investigated by calculating changes in paleoproductivity, diversity and paleobiogeography ~26 to 2 Ma, which includes the progressive closure of the Central American Seaway. Three hypotheses were tested: (1) Paleoproductivity values prior to closure of the Central American Seaway are similar in both the Caribbean and equatorial Pacific and then diverge by the time of early shoaling events; (2) Diversity values of benthic foraminifera prior to the closure of the Central American Seaway were similar in the Caribbean and EEP, and had changed by the time of early shoaling; and (3) during the Miocene and into the Pleistocene, the progressive constriction of the CAS affected deep-sea benthic foraminiferal assemblages by increasing their dissimilarity between the Caribbean and equatorial Eastern Pacific. These hypotheses were tested with 104 samples from five Caribbean and EEP deep-sea cores by
calculating paleoproductivity with multiple proxies, determining diversity indices and calculating biogeographic similarity coefficients.
The data supported the first two hypotheses: The greatest change in paleoproductivity occurred at ~8 Ma during seaway constriction, when values diverged between the Caribbean and EEP. After complete seaway closure at ~4 Ma, the Caribbean became oligotrophic, noted by a decrease in high-organic flux species, and an increase in Nuttalides umbonifera, an indicator species. The largest changes in species-level diversity occurred with the barrier to deep-water flow at ~12 Ma, and Caribbean diversity increased at ~8 Ma with seaway constriction. However, the third hypothesis was rejected: Increases in assemblage similarity actually occurred during most major paleoceanographic events, with the only decrease in Caribbean-EEP similarity occurring at ~12 Ma, coincident with a drop in diversity and emplacement of the Panama isthmian sill.
Thus, the barrier to deep-water flow at ~12 Ma affected the composition of tropical American benthic foraminifera more than the largest change in paleoproductivity at ~8 Ma, or closure of the Central American Seaway at ~4 Ma.