After the Disaster: Ecological Succession 555 Million Years Ago – #365papers – 2017 – 100

#365papers for April 10, 2017 — The 100th paper for 2017!

Reid, Garcia-Bellindo, Payne, Runnegar, and Gehling, 2017, Possible evidence of primary succession in a juvenile-dominated Ediacara fossil surface from the Flinders Ranges, South Australia: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 476, p. 68-76.

What’s it about?

The oldest fossils of multicellular organisms on Earth come from the Ediacara biota (575-541 million years ago). Such fossils are found globally, but were first described from the Flinders Ranges of South Australia.

The authors here describe a new locality in the Flinders Ranges that have many well-preserved Ediacaran fossils. Most of these fossils are smaller than the same species found at other localities. There is also an unexpected dominance of one species, Dickinsonia. This combined evidence suggests that this locality preserves an ecosystem that was developing not long after some environmental catastrophe. Thus, this is a primary successional fauna.

Why does it matter?

Ecological succession, the development of ecosystems over time, usually after some sort of catastrophe has cleared off the substrate, is a topic of great interest in biology. Succession matters in regions where forest fires destroyed old forests (like they did in Yellowstone in the late 1980’s) or where fields are left fallow and native plants begin to move back in. To understand ecological succession from fossils helps us understand how organisms relate to each other and their environment.

Why did I read this?

The word ‘succession’ caught my eye. It can have a couple of meanings in paleontology. That this paper is about Ediacaran fossils was also of interest.

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