Engineering the Cambrian explosion: the earliest bioturbators as ecosystem engineers
Liam G. Herringshaw, Richard H. T. Callow, Duncan McIlroy, 2017. "Engineering the Cambrian explosion: the earliest bioturbators as ecosystem engineers", 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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By applying modern biological criteria to trace fossil types and assessing burrow morphology, complexity, depth, potential burrow function and the likelihood of bioirrigation, we assign ecosystem engineering impact (EEI) values to the key ichnotaxa in the lowermost Cambrian (Fortunian). Surface traces such as Monomorphichnus have minimal impact on sediment properties and have very low EEI values; quasi-infaunal traces of organisms that were surficial modifiers or biodiffusors, such as Planolites, have moderate EEI values; and deeper infaunal, gallery biodiffusive or upward-conveying/downward-conveying traces, such as Teichichnus and Gyrolithes, have the highest EEI values. The key Cambrian ichnotaxon Treptichnus pedum has a moderate to high EEI value, depending on its functional interpretation. Most of the major functional groups of modern bioturbators are found to have evolved during the earliest Cambrian, including burrow types that are highly likely to have been bioirrigated. In fine-grained (or microbially bound) sedimentary environments, trace-makers of bioirrigated burrows would have had a particularly significant impact, generating advective fluid flow within the sediment for the first time, in marked contrast with the otherwise diffusive porewater systems of the Proterozoic. This innovation is likely to have created significant ecospace and engineered fundamentally new infaunal environments for macrobiotic and microbiotic organisms alike.
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.