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'Conga Lines' of Ediacaran fronds: insights into the reproductive biology of early metazoans



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Delahooke, Katie 


Late Ediacaran strata from Newfoundland, Canada (~574–560 Ma) document near-census palaeocommunities of some of the earliest metazoans. Such preservation enables reproductive strategies to be inferred from the spatial distribution of populations of fossilised benthic organisms, previously revealing the existence of both propagule and stoloniferous reproductive modes amongst Ediacaran frondose taxa. Here we describe ‘conga lines’: linear arrangements of more than three closely spaced fossil specimens. We calculate probabilistic models of point maps of 13 fossil-bearing bedding surfaces, and show that four surfaces contain conga lines that are not the result of chance alignments. We then test whether these features could result from passive pelagic propagules settling in the lee of an existing frond, using computational fluid dynamics and discrete phase modelling. Under Ediacaran palaeoenvironmental conditions, preferential leeside settlement at the spatial scale of the conga lines is unlikely. We therefore conclude that these features are novel and do not reflect previously described reproductive strategies employed by Ediacaran organisms, suggesting the use of mixed reproductive strategies in the earliest animals. Such strategies enabled Ediacaran frondose taxa to act as reproductive generalists, and may be an important facet of early metazoan evolution.



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Royal Society Open Science

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The Royal Society
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/P002412/1)
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/S014756/1)
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/L011409/2)
NERC (2395298)