Abstract

Epifaunal tiering, the subdivision of vertical space within a community, is a fundamental attribute of Phanerozoic suspension-feeding communities. This paper documents tiering, including the presence of meter-tall organisms, in Neoproterozoic Ediacaran communities. Ediacaran tiering was studied from three exceptionally preserved deep-water communities at Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, which contain in situ census populations of hundreds to thousands of organisms. Tiering consists of overlapping populations of dominant organisms and is characterized by gradational, rather than abrupt, tier boundaries. At least three tiers are apparent: a lower level 0–8 cm above the seafloor, an intermediate level between 8–22 cm above the seafloor, and an upper level that extends as high as 120 cm. Tier boundaries are relatively consistent between communities, but the constituent organisms in each level are variable, suggesting that some Ediacaran taxa could fill different tiers interchangeably. Development of a tiered epifaunal structure is consistent with suspension feeding or absorbing dissolved nutrients directly from seawater. Despite the common occurrence of tall organisms, all communities share a similar population structure in which biomass is concentrated in the basal 10 cm above the seafloor. Comparison with shallow-water Ediacaran localities suggests that the observed tiering structure is typical of Ediacaran communities. Ediacaran tierers also show the fundamental subdivision between organisms and/or colonies that fed along their entire length and those that developed a specialized feeding apparatus, implying that the features of Phanerozoic tiered skeletal ecosystems were first initiated in soft-bodied communities in the late Neoproterozoic.

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