Suspension feeding in the enigmatic Ediacaran organism Tribrachidium demonstrates complexity of Neoproterozoic ecosystems

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Science Advances  27 Nov 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 10, e1500800
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500800


The first diverse and morphologically complex macroscopic communities appear in the late Ediacaran period, 575 to 541 million years ago (Ma). The enigmatic organisms that make up these communities are thought to have formed simple ecosystems characterized by a narrow range of feeding modes, with most restricted to the passive absorption of organic particles (osmotrophy). We test between competing feeding models for the iconic Ediacaran organism Tribrachidium heraldicum using computational fluid dynamics. We show that the external morphology of Tribrachidium passively directs water flow toward the apex of the organism and generates low-velocity eddies above apical “pits.” These patterns of fluid flow are inconsistent with osmotrophy and instead support the interpretation of Tribrachidium as a passive suspension feeder. This finding provides the oldest empirical evidence for suspension feeding at 555 to 550 Ma, ~10 million years before the Cambrian explosion, and demonstrates that Ediacaran organisms formed more complex ecosystems in the latest Precambrian, involving a larger number of ecological guilds, than currently appreciated.

  • Ediacara
  • Ecology
  • suspension feeding
  • ecosystem engineers
  • computational fluid dynamics

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