Predation is one of the most fundamental ecological and evolutionary drivers in modern and ancient ecosystems. Here, we report the discovery of evidence of the oldest scavenging of shallowly buried bodies of iconic soft-bodied members of the Ediacara Biota by cryptic seafloor mat-burrowing animals that produced the furrow and levee trace fossil, Helminthoidichnites isp. These mat-burrowers were probably omnivorous, stem-group bilaterians that largely grazed on microbial mats but when following mats under thin sands, they actively scavenged buried Dickinsonia, Aspidella, Funisia and other elements of the Ediacara Biota. These traces of opportunistic scavengers of dead animals from the Ediacaran of South Australia represent a fundamental ecological innovation and a possible pathway to the evolution of macrophagous predation in the Cambrian. While the Ediacaran oceans may have had oxygen levels too low to support typical large predators, the Helminthoidichnites maker lived in and grazed on microbial mats, which may have provided a localized source of oxygen.
Ediacaran scavenging as a prelude to predation
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Timothy W. Lyons, Mary L. Droser, Kimberly V. Lau, Susannah M. Porter, James G. Gehling, Mary L. Droser; Ediacaran scavenging as a prelude to predation. Emerg Top Life Sci 28 September 2018; 2 (2): 213–222. doi: https://doi.org/10.1042/ETLS20170166
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