ABSTRACT: Pteropods and heteropods (holoplanktonic gastropods) are an important component of the modern oceans; however, detailed information on their distribution in the fossil record is often based on poorly preserved specimens. This study presents the micropaleontological analysis of three exceptionally well-preserved Late Pleistocene marine sediment cores from the eastern Caribbean Sea, western Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. This study presents the first stratigraphical record of heteropods in the Caribbean Sea and extends the known zonation of pteropods in the Mediterranean Sea. Distributions of pteropods, heteropods and planktonic foraminifera are presented with abundance and species richness data, as well as stratigraphical dates inferred from the oxygen isotope stratigraphy, argon-argon dating and biostratigraphy. The findings of this study greatly improve our understanding of holoplanktonic gastropod stratigraphy and ecology. Results reveal that the geographical range of heteropods, thought to be restricted to sub-tropical warm waters, may be much greater, including waters of sub-polar temperature. Heteropods were also found to be surprisingly abundant, potentially representing a more important part of the ocean food web than previously thought. Analysis revealed two species of holoplanktonic gastropod that are previously undescribed and indicate that the pteropod Heliconoides mermuysi (Cahuzac and Janssen 2010), known exclusively from the Moulin de Cabanes (Miocene), may have lived in the Caribbean Sea and Indian Ocean as recently as 4 kyr ago. These findings highlight the urgent need for increased research on holoplanktonic gastropods. The threat that current climate change and ocean acidification poses, particularly to the delicately shelled forms, means that some species may become extinct before they have even been fully ‘discovered’.
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