Report

Abundance Distributions Imply Elevated Complexity of Post-Paleozoic Marine Ecosystems

Science  24 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5803, pp. 1289-1292
DOI: 10.1126/science.1133795

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Abstract

Likelihood analyses of 1176 fossil assemblages of marine organisms from Phanerozoic (i.e., Cambrian to Recent) assemblages indicate a shift in typical relative-abundance distributions after the Paleozoic. Ecological theory associated with these abundance distributions implies that complex ecosystems are far more common among Meso-Cenozoic assemblages than among the Paleozoic assemblages that preceded them. This transition coincides not with any major change in the way fossils are preserved or collected but with a shift from communities dominated by sessile epifaunal suspension feeders to communities with elevated diversities of mobile and infaunal taxa. This suggests that the end-Permian extinction permanently altered prevailing marine ecosystem structure and precipitated high levels of ecological complexity and alpha diversity in the Meso-Cenozoic.

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