Burgess Shale−type biotas occur globally in the Cambrian record and offer unparalleled insight into the Cambrian explosion, the initial Phanerozoic radiation of the Metazoa. Deposits bearing exceptionally preserved soft-bodied fossils are unusually common in Cambrian strata; more than 40 are now known. The well-documented decline of soft-bodied preservation following the Middle Cambrian represents the closure of a taphonomic window that was only intermittently open in marine environments thereafter. The prevailing hypothesis for this secular shift in taphonomic conditions of outer shelf environments is that soft-bodied biotas were literally burrowed away from the fossil record by increasing infaunal activity in muddy substrate environments; this would have affected geochemical gradients and increased the efficiency of organic matter recycling in sediments. New and recently published data, however, suggest a more complex scenario. Ichnologic and microstratigraphic data from Burgess Shale−type deposits indicate that (1) bioturbation exerts a limiting effect on soft-bodied preservation; (2) the observed increase in the depth and extent of bioturbation following the Middle Cambrian would have restricted preservation of Burgess Shale−type biotas in a number of settings; but (3) increasing depth and extent of bioturbation would not have affected preservation in many other settings, including the most richly fossiliferous portions of the Chengjiang (China) deposit and the Greater Phyllopod Bed of the Burgess Shale (Canada). Therefore, increasing bioturbation cannot account for the apparent loss of this pathway from the fossil record, and requires that other circumstances, including, but not limited to, widespread benthic anoxia, facilitated widespread exceptional preservation in the Cambrian.

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