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Burgess Shale-type Preservation and its Distribution in Space and Time

  • Robert R. Gaines (a1)

Abstract

Burgess Shale-type fossil assemblages provide a unique record of animal life in the immediate aftermath of the so-called “Cambrian explosion.” While most soft-bodied faunas in the rock record were conserved by mineral replication of soft tissues, Burgess Shale-type preservation involved the conservation of whole assemblages of soft-bodied animals as primary carbonaceous remains, often preserved in extraordinary anatomical detail. Burgess Shale-type preservation resulted from a combination of influences operating at both local and global scales that acted to drastically slow microbial degradation in the early burial environment, resulting in incomplete decomposition and the conservation of soft-bodied animals, many of which are otherwise unknown from the fossil record. While Burgess Shale-type fossil assemblages are primarily restricted to early and middle Cambrian strata (Series 2–3), their anomalous preservation is a pervasive phenomenon that occurs widely in mudstone successions deposited on multiple paleocontinents. Herein, circumstances that led to the preservation of Burgess Shale-type fossils in Cambrian strata worldwide are reviewed. A three-tiered rank classification of the more than 50 Burgess Shale-type deposits now known is proposed and is used to consider the hierarchy of controls that regulated the operation of Burgess Shale-type preservation in space and time, ultimately determining the total number of preserved taxa and the fidelity of preservation in each deposit. While Burgess Shale-type preservation is a unique taphonomic mode that ultimately was regulated by the influence of global seawater chemistry upon the early diagenetic environment, physical depositional (biostratinomic) controls are shown to have been critical in determining the total number of taxa preserved in fossil assemblages, and hence, in regulating many of the important differences among Burgess Shale-type deposits.

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The Paleontological Society Papers
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  • EISSN: 2399-7575
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