Post-fossilization processes and their implications for understanding Ediacaran macrofossil assemblages
Jack J. Matthews, Alexander G. Liu, Duncan McIlroy, 2017. "Post-fossilization processes and their implications for understanding Ediacaran macrofossil assemblages", Earth System Evolution and Early Life: A Celebration of the Work of Martin Brasier, A. T. Brasier, D. McIlroy, N. McLoughlin
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Fossil assemblages from Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula preserve diverse examples of the enigmatic Ediacaran macrobiota, offering some of the earliest evidence for large and complex multicellular life. These fossils are exposed on extensive coastal bedding planes in extraordinary abundances, permitting palaeoecological studies based on census data from spatially extensive palaeocommunities. Such studies have been used to constrain the reproductive strategy and phylogenetic placement of Ediacaran organisms. Geological mapping and stratigraphic correlation in the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve reveal that some fossil-bearing surfaces can be tracked over distances of several kilometres. These laterally extensive surfaces reveal that the modern processes by which the sediment overlying a fossil surface is removed may impose important controls on the observed composition of fossil assemblages. Weathering and erosion – along with factors associated with tectonics, metamorphism and discovery – are here grouped as ‘post-fossilization processes’ and introduce biases that are often not explicitly accounted for in palaeoecological studies. Specifically, post-fossilization processes may differentially influence the preservational fidelity of individual specimens on a given surface and generate features that could be mistaken for original morphological characters. We therefore recommend that post-fossilization processes must be considered when undertaking palaeoecological studies in Ediacaran successions in Newfoundland and, potentially, elsewhere.
Gold Open Access: This article is published under the terms of the CC-BY 3.0 license.
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This volume in memory of Professor Martin Brasier, which has many of his unfinished works, summarizes recent progress in some of the hottest topics in palaeobiology including cellular preservation of early microbial life and early evolution of macroscopic animal life, encompassing the Ediacara biota. The papers focus on how to decipher evidence for early life, which requires exceptional preservation, employment of state-of-the-art techniques and also an understanding gleaned from Phanerozoic lagerstätte and modern analogues. The papers also apply Martin’s MOFAOTYOF principle (my oldest fossils are older than your oldest fossils), requiring an integrated approach to understanding fossils. The adoption of the null-hypothesis that all putative traces of life are abiotic until proven otherwise, and the consideration of putative fossils within their spatial context, characterized the work of Martin Brasier, as is well demonstrated by the papers in this volume.