Abstract

Paleotectonic reconstructions for the late Proterozoic have differed over the timing of the Cordilleran rifting between Laurentia and the East Gondwana cratons. Parsimony Analysis of Endemism (PAE) and phenetic clustering of the "Ediacara biota" were carried out, for comparison with competing paleotectonic hypotheses. All analyses show a common pattern of similarities among biotas. The biotas of Charnwood Forest and Newfoundland consistently group together, while the south Australian biota is closest to those of Baltica, northern Laurentia, and Siberia. The biota of southwest North America, though still poorly known, strikingly resembles that of Namibia--not that of northwestern Canada. This pattern is not obviously due to facies-related or preservational bias and is very different from Cambrian biogeographic patterns. The overall pattern is most consistent with the hypothesis that the western margin of Laurentia was in close contact with East Gondwana, with rifting taking place either during or just before the Vendian. This arrangement has been previously proposed as a paleotectonic hypothesis; however, most recent paleomagnetic and structural studies support the alternate hypothesis that this rifting took place more than 100 million years before the Vendian. Resolving this contradiction will require much more data on both organismal distribution and cratonal position.

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