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Illuminating the origins of complex life: Spatial analysis of Ediacaran ecosystems

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Charlie Eardley.

Ediacaran macro-organisms occupy a crucial position in the history of life on Earth, marking the transition between the microbially dominated Proterozoic and the Cambrian explosion of modern animals. The oldest Ediacaran macro-organisms exhibit unique morphologies, making it difficult to resolve their phylogenetic relationships or their basic ecology. However, the sessile nature of these Ediacaran macro-organisms, coupled with their in-situ preservation, means that their spatial positions reflect the biological and ecological processes that they were subject to in-life. As a result, detailed spatial analyses moves beyond descriptive statistics, enabling verifiable predictions to be made and ecological hypotheses to be tested.

Using a high-resolution tripod-mounted Laser Line Probe, we have comprehensively mapped 18 of the most diverse and abundant Ediacaran communities across Newfoundland, Canada and Charnwood Forest, UK, to a resolution of ~40 ┬Ám. By analysing the relationship of specimen height with spatial distributions, we found that competition for water-column resources did not structure these ecosystems, with the key advantage of large body-size limited to greater dispersal, contrary to previous suggestions. Furthermore, stemmed organisms do not exhibit any tiering, in contrast to non-stemmed organisms, illustrating that this morphological differentiation was also not driven by resource competition but by reproductive concerns.

This talk is part of the Sedgwick Club talks series.

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