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The influence of environmental setting on the community ecology of Ediacaran organisms

By Emily G. Mitchell, Nikolai Bobkov, Natalia Bykova, Alavya Dhungana, Anton Kolesnikov, Ian R. P. Hogarth, Alexander G Liu, Tom M.R. Mustill, Nikita Sozonov, Shuhai Xiao, Dmitriy V. Grazhdankin

Posted 02 Dec 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/861906 (published DOI: 10.1098/rsfs.2019.0109)

The broad-scale environment plays a substantial role in shaping modern marine ecosystems, but the degree to which palaeocommunities were influenced by their environment is unclear. To investigate how broad-scale environment influenced the community ecology of early animal ecosystems we employed spatial point process analyses to examine the community structure of seven bedding-plane assemblages of late Ediacaran age (558 to 550 Ma), drawn from a range of environmental settings and global localities. The studied palaeocommunities exhibit marked differences in the response of their component taxa to sub-metre-scale habitat heterogeneities on the seafloor. Shallow-marine palaeocommunities were heavily influenced by local habitat heterogeneities, in contrast to their deep-water counterparts. Lower species richness in deep-water Ediacaran assemblages compared to shallow-water counterparts across the studied time-interval could have been driven by this environmental patchiness, because habitat heterogeneities correspond to higher diversity in modern marine environments. The presence of grazers and detritivores within shallow-water communities may have promoted local patchiness, potentially initiating a chain of increasing heterogeneity of benthic communities from shallow to deep-marine depositional environments. Our results provide quantitative support for the Savannah hypothesis for early animal diversification, whereby Ediacaran diversification was driven by patchiness in the local benthic environment.

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