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Metacommunity analyses show increase in ecological specialisation throughout the Ediacaran

By Rebecca Eden, Andrea Manica, Emily G. Mitchell

Posted 17 May 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.05.17.444444

The first animals appear during the late Ediacaran (572 - 541 Ma); an initial diversity increase was followed by a drop, interpreted as catastrophic mass extinction. We investigate the processes underlying these changes using the "Elements of Metacommunity Structure" framework. The oldest metacommunity was characterized by taxa with wide environmental tolerances, and limited specialisation and inter-taxa interactions. Structuring increased in the middle metacommunity, with groups of taxa sharing synchronous responses to environmental gradients, aggregating into distinct communities. This pattern strengthened in the youngest metacommunity, with communities showing strong environmental segregation and depth structure. Thus, metacommunity structure increased in complexity, with increased specialisation and resulting competitive exclusion, not a catastrophic environmental disaster, leading to diversity loss in the terminal Ediacaran, revealing that the complex eco-evolutionary dynamics associated with Cambrian diversification were established in the Ediacaran.

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