Abstract

Dickinsonia is one of the oldest macroscopic metazoans in the fossil record. Determining the biological characters of this extinct taxon is critical to our understanding of the early evolution of life. Preservation of abundant specimens from the Ediacara Member (Rawnsley Quartzite), South Australia, in a variety of taphonomic states allows the unparalleled opportunity to compare the biomechanical responses of Dickinsonia tissue to various forces with those typical of modern organisms. Dickinsonia are found as lifted, transported, folded, rolled, ripped, and expanded or contracted individuals, while maintaining diagnostic morphology. This suite of characters indicates that Dickinsonia was composed of material that was flexible, difficult to rip, and capable of elastic and plastic deformation. While none of these traits are diagnostic of a single biomaterial component, we find many similarities with modern biopolymers, particularly collagen, keratin, and elastin. Maintenance of significant relief following complete tearing suggests that Dickinsonia was composed of relatively thick tissues, signifying higher oxygen requirements than previously hypothesized. The ability to be transported and still be preserved as recognizable fossils is unique amongst the Ediacara Biota and demonstrates that Dickinsonia was a taphonomic elite. Combined with discovery in multiple environmental settings, this indicates that the absence of Dickinsonia represents the likely extinction of this organism prior to the Nama assemblage, possibly due to a decrease in the global availability of oxygen in the latest Ediacaran.

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