Hypotheses on the age and possible antiquity of the modern deep-sea fauna put forward to date almost all agree on the assumption that the deep-sea fauna is largely the result of colonisation from shallow-water environments. Here, the fossil record of the Ophiacanthidae, a modern deep-sea brittle star family with extensive fossil occurrences at shelf depths, is systematically traced against a calibrated phylogeny. Several lines of evidence suggest that the Ophiacanthidae originated and greatly diversified in the deep sea, with most extant clades having diverged by the end of the Triassic at the latest. During the Jurassic, the family temporarily invaded shelf environments, attaining relative abundances and diversities comparable to those found in coeval and modern deep-sea settings, and gradually declined in abundance subsequently, to become largely restricted to the deep-sea again. The pattern of temporary expansion to shelf environments suggested here underpins the potential of deep-sea environments to contribute significantly to shallow-water biodiversity; an aspect that has mostly been neglected so far. It is speculated that the large-scale ophiacanthid invasion of shelf environments around the Triassic-Jurassic boundary was initiated by a change from thermohaline to halothermal circulation, attenuating the thermal stratification of the water column and thus providing opportunities for enhanced vertical migration of marine taxa.
Ophiacanthidae, fossil record, bathymetric trends, onshore-offshore trends, evolution.