Repository logo

Metacommunity analyses show an increase in ecological specialisation throughout the Ediacaran period.

Published version

Change log


Eden, Rebecca 


The first animals appear during the late Ediacaran (572 to 541 Ma); an initial diversity increase was followed reduction in diversity, often interpreted as catastrophic mass extinction. We investigate Ediacaran ecosystem structure changes over this time period using the "Elements of Metacommunity Structure" framework to assess whether this diversity reduction in the Nama was likely caused by an external mass extinction, or internal metacommunity restructuring. The oldest metacommunity was characterised by taxa with wide environmental tolerances, and limited specialisation or intertaxa associations. Structuring increased in the second oldest metacommunity, with groups of taxa sharing synchronous responses to environmental gradients, aggregating into distinct communities. This pattern strengthened in the youngest metacommunity, with communities showing strong environmental segregation and depth structure. Thus, metacommunity structure increased in complexity, with increased specialisation and resulting in competitive exclusion, not a catastrophic environmental disaster, leading to diversity loss in the terminal Ediacaran. These results reveal that the complex eco-evolutionary dynamics associated with Cambrian diversification were established in the Ediacaran.



Research Article, Biology and life sciences, Earth sciences, Ecology and environmental sciences, Computer and information sciences

Journal Title

PLoS Biol

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/S014756/1)