Abstract

The Dunleith Formation echinoderms lived on a shallow water carbonate platform (Benthic Assemblages outer 2 and 3 during the latter part of the Dunleith Regressive Cycle). The echinoderms were buried rapidly by storms or a volcanic ash bed in one example. The presence of complete specimens, entire crowns, attachment structures, and excellent preservation strongly suggests that these assemblages reflect in situ communities on the seafloor that have not been significantly mixed, transported, or concentrated in time. Most taxa are suspension feeders, namely 21 crinoids, one glyptocystitid rhombiferan, a paracrinoid, and two edrioasteroids, but a deposit feeding pleurocystitid rhombiferan is also common. Three assemblages are recognized and defined by their dominant taxa; in order of increasing depth, these are the Cotylacrinna sandra, Pleurocystites strimplei, and Cupulocrinus crossmani assemblages. Substrates ranged from hard- or firm-ground carbonates to soft carbonate and siliciclastic muds. Diverse attachment structures are recognized: the recumbent stems of calceocrinids, lichenocrinids on shells, small distal stem tips, and round to lobate calcite pads cemented to shells or the substrate, open distal stem coils directly on the seabed or coiled around soft objects thereon, and large conical and highly modified cirrus holdfasts on hard- or firm-grounds. The echinoderms were located at levels ranging from the seafloor to almost a meter above, with maximum diversity at about 50 mm above the seafloor. The size frequency distributions of food particles and the ranges of ambient current velocities for successful feeding by the juveniles and adults of the common crinoids are modeled using filtration theory. The food particle size distributions and the current velocities for feeding are correlated with the arm or filtration fan morphology of the crinoids. Differences between these parameters tend to partially separate the feeding ecologies of species located at the same elevation. Nevertheless, considerable overlap remains between species for small sized food particles and the lower ranges of ambient current velocities for feeding. Except for the Cotylacrinna sandra Assemblage, competition for space does not seem to have been important in regulating the ecological structure of the Dunleith crinoids. However, the deposit feeding pleurocystitids possibly competed for food and space in one example. The Dunleith assemblages are much more diverse with greater ecological complexity than seen in the relatively deep water fauna from the Upper Ordovician Trenton Group of the Walcott-Rust Quarry in New York (Benthic Assemblage 5).

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