Abstract

The Dinwoody Formation of the western United States represents an important archive of Early Triassic ecosystems in the immediate aftermath of the end-Permian mass extinction. We present a systematic description and a quantitative paleoecological analysis of its benthic faunas in order to reconstruct benthic associations and to explore the temporal and spatial variations of diversity, ecological structure and taxonomic composition throughout the earliest Triassic of the western United States. A total of 15 bivalve species, two gastropod species, and two brachiopod species are recognized in the study area. The paleoecological analysis shows that the oldest Dinwoody communities are characterized by low diversity, low ecological complexity and high dominance of few species. We suggest that this low diversity most likely reflects the consequences of the mass extinction in the first place and not necessarily the persistence of environmental stress. Whereas this diversity pattern persists into younger strata of the Dinwoody Formation in outer shelf environments, an increase in richness, evenness and guild diversity occurred around the Griesbachian–Dienerian boundary in more shallow marine habitats. This incipient recovery towards the end of the Griesbachian is in accordance with observations from other regions and thus probably represents an interregional signal. In contrast to increasing richness within communities (alpha-diversity), beta-diversity remained low during the Griesbachian and Dienerian in the study area. This low beta-diversity reflects a wide environmental and geographical range of taxa during the earliest Triassic, indicating that the increase of within-habitat diversity has not yet led to significant competitive exclusion. We hypothesize that the well-known prevalence of generalized taxa in post-extinction faunas is primarily an effect of reduced competition that allows species to exist through the full range of their fundamental niches, rather than being caused by unusual and uniform environmental stress.

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