Supervisors and Institutions
Animals first appear in the fossil record during the Ediacaran time period (635-539 million years ago). It is during the Ediacaran that animals evolved some of their most important traits: most obviously large body-size but also tissue-differentiation, mobility, bilateral symmetry and ecosystem engineering (reef-building). The study of Ediacaran organisms is fraught with difficulties, because commonly-used morphological approaches have only limited use due to the unique anatomies of Ediacaran organisms. Fortunately, the preservation of Ediacaran fossils is exceptional, with communities comprised of thousands of sessile organisms preserved where they lived under a layer of volcanic ash. Therefore, the position of the fossil on the rock surface encapsulates their entire life history: how they reproduced and how they interacted with each other and their environment (Mitchell et al. 2015). As such, ecological statistics provides a novel approach for investigating fundamental issues in early animal evolution.
It is currently not clear which biological characters or traits are key to influencing taxon interactions in the Ediacaran. This project will focus on the Ediacaran clade Rangeomorpha, which exhibit a “fractal-like” anatomy unique to the Ediacaran, which maximise their surface areas. Since specimen height and population height distributions do not govern community dynamics, contrary to prior hypotheses (Mitchell and Kenchington 2018) other metrics need to be considered. This project will investigate which morphological traits, such as branching characters, correlate with their ecological dynamics to determine what are the key traits of Ediacaran organisms.