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The importance of neutral over niche processes in structuring Ediacaran early animal communities

By Emily G. Mitchell, Simon Harris, Charlotte G. Kenchington, Philip Vixseboxse, Lucy Roberts, Catherine Clark, Alexandra Dennis, Alexander G Liu, Philip R. Wilby

Posted 10 Dec 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/443275 (published DOI: 10.1111/ele.13383)

The relative influence of niche versus neutral processes in ecosystem dynamics is a fundamental question in community ecology, but the extent to which they structured early animal communities is unknown. The oldest known metazoan-dominated paleocommunities occur in Ediacaran age (~565 million years old) strata in Newfoundland, Canada and Charnwood Forest, UK. These comprise large and diverse in-situ populations of sessile organisms that are amenable to spatial point process analyses, enabling inference of the most likely underlying niche or neutral processes governing their community structure. We conducted comprehensive spatial mapping of seven of the largest Ediacaran paleocommunities using LiDAR, photogrammetry and a laser-line probe. We find neutral processes to dominate these paleocommunities with limited influence of niche processes. Our results differ from the niche-dominated dynamics of modern marine ecosystems, revealing that the dynamics of environmental interactions prompted very different ecosystem structuring for these early animal communities.

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