The Ediacaran radiation of metazoans is widely thought to have been triggered by an increase in atmospheric and oceanic oxygen levels. Although supported by other proxies, rising oxygen levels were deduced to a significant degree from sedimentary enrichments of redox-sensitive trace elements (RSTEs). However, some organic-rich shales of this period show only minor enrichments in RSTEs, leaving the significance of RSTE data for palaeo-oxygenation interpretations in doubt. We measured and compiled proxies for marine redox conditions (Fe species, RSTEs), total organic carbon (TOC) and water mass restriction (Mo/TOC and Co × Mn v. Cd/Mo) in the intra-shelf Jiulongwan and basinal Sandu sections of the Nanhua Basin in South China. Compared with the same proxies from coeval sections in the Nanhua Basin and globally, our results document a strong spatial heterogeneity of RSTE enrichments in anoxic black shales during the late Ediacaran. We infer that RSTE enrichments were strongly influenced by local factors, such as basinal restriction, seawater RSTE concentrations, and differential elemental responses to redox conditions and other influences. The broader significance of our findings is that they highlight the difficulty of investigating global redox conditions based on an analysis of local RSTE proxies within a single depositional basin or a limited number of study sections.

Thematic collection: This article is part of the Advances in the Cambrian Explosion collection available at: https://www.lyellcollection.org/cc/advances-cambrian-explosion

Supplementary material: Tables S1–S3 are available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5325047

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