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Deciphering trophic interactions in a mid-Cambrian assemblage

By Anshuman Swain, Matthew Devereux, William F. Fagan

Posted 28 May 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.26.116848

The Cambrian Period (541-485 Mya) represents a major stage in the development of metazoan-dominated assemblages with complex community structure and species interactions. Exceptionally preserved fossil sites have allowed specimen-based identification of putative trophic interactions to which network analyses have been applied. However, network analyses of the fossil record suffer from incomplete and indirect data, time averaging that obscures species coexistence, and biases in preservation. Here, we present a novel high-resolution fossil dataset from the Raymond Quarry (RQ) member of the mid-Cambrian Burgess Shale (7549 specimens, 61 taxa, ~510 Mya) affording new perspectives on these challenging issues. Further, we formulate a new measure of 'preservation bias' that aids identification of those assemblage subsets to which network analyses can be reliably applied. For sections with sufficiently low bias, abundance correlation network analyses predicted longitudinally consistent trophic and competitive interactions. Our correlation network analyses predicted previously postulated trophic interactions with 83.5% accuracy and demonstrated a shift from specialist interaction-dominated assemblages to ones dominated by generalist and competitive interactions. This approach provides a robust, taphonomically corrected framework to explore and predict in detail the existence and ecological character of putative interactions in fossil datasets, offering new windows on ancient food-webs. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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