High ecological complexity in benthic Ediacaran communities.Nat Ecol Evol. 2018 10; 2(10):1541-1547.NE
A long-running debate over the affinities of the Neoproterozoic 'Ediacara biota' has led to contrasting interpretations of Ediacaran ecosystem complexity. A 'simple' model assumes that most, if not all, Ediacaran organisms shared similar basic ecologies. A contrasting 'complex' model suggests that the Ediacara biota more likely represent organisms from a variety of different positions on the eukaryotic tree and thus occupied a wide range of different ecologies. We perform a quantitative test of Ediacaran ecosystem complexity using rank abundance distributions (RADs). We show that the Ediacara biota formed complex-type communities throughout much of their stratigraphic range and thus likely comprised species that competed for different resources and/or created niche for others ('ecosystem engineers'). One possible explanation for this pattern rests in the recent inference of multiple metazoan-style feeding modes among the Ediacara biota; in this scenario, different Ediacaran groups/clades were engaged in different methods of nutrient collection and thus competed for different resources. This result illustrates that the Ediacara biota may not have been as bizarre as it is sometimes suggested, and provides an ecological link with the animal-dominated benthic ecosystems of the Palaeozoic era.