Repository logo

Decline and fall of the Ediacarans: late-Neoproterozoic extinctions and the rise of the modern biosphere.

Published version

Published version

Repository DOI

Change log


Dunn, Frances S 


The end-Neoproterozoic transition marked a gradual but permanent shift between distinct configurations of Earth's biosphere. This interval witnessed the demise of the enigmatic Ediacaran Biota, ushering in the structured trophic webs and disparate animal body plans of Phanerozoic ecosystems. However, little consensus exists on the reality, drivers, and macroevolutionary implications of end-Neoproterozoic extinctions. Here we evaluate potential drivers of late-Neoproterozoic turnover by addressing recent findings on Ediacaran geochronology, the persistence of classical Ediacaran macrobionts into the Cambrian, and the existence of Ediacaran crown-group eumetazoans. Despite renewed interest in the possibility of Phanerozoic-style 'mass extinctions' in the latest Neoproterozoic, our synthesis of the available evidence does not support extinction models based on episodic geochemical triggers, nor does it validate simple ecological interpretations centred on direct competitive displacement. Instead, we argue that the protracted and indirect effects of early bilaterian innovations, including escalations in sediment engineering, predation, and the largely understudied impacts of reef-building, may best account for the temporal structure and possible selectivity of late-Neoproterozoic extinctions. We integrate these processes into a generalised model of early eumetazoan-dominated ecologies, charting the disruption of spatial and temporal isotropy on the Ediacaran benthos as a consequence of diversifying macrofaunal interactions. Given the nature of resource distribution in Ediacaran ecologies, the continuities among Ediacaran and Cambrian faunas, and the convergent origins of ecologically disruptive innovations among bilaterians we suggest that the rise of Phanerozoic-type biotas may have been unstoppable.



Bilateria, Ediacaran Biota, Eumetazoa, Neoproterozoic, ecosystem engineering, mass extinction, Animals, Ecosystem, Biological Evolution, Fossils, Biota, Extinction, Biological

Journal Title

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Natural Environment Research Council (NE/W00786X/1, RG96579)