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Were the Ediacaran Fossils Lichens?

Gregory J. Retallack
Paleobiology
Vol. 20, No. 4 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 523-544
Published by: Paleontological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2401233
Page Count: 22
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Were the Ediacaran Fossils Lichens?
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Abstract

Ediacaran fossils are taphonomically similar to impressions of fossil plants common in quartz sandstones, and the relief of the fossils suggests that they were as resistant to compaction during burial as some kinds of Pennsylvanian tree trunks. Fossils of jellyfish are known from siderite nodules and fine-grained limestone, and even in these compaction-resistant media were more compressed during burial than were the Vendobionta. Vendobionta were constructed of materials that responded to burial compaction in a way intermediate between conifer and lycopsid logs. This comparative taphonomic study thus falsifies the concept of Vendobionta as thin softbodied creatures such as worms and jellyfish. Lichens, with their structural chitin, present a viable model for the observed preservational style of Vendobionta, as well as for a variety of other features that now can be reassessed from this new perspective. The diversity of Ediacaran body plans can be compared with the variety of form in fungi, algae, and lichens. The large size (ca. 1 m) of some Ediacaran fossils is reasonable for sessile photosynthetic symbioses, and much bigger than associated burrows of metazoans not preserved. Microscopic tubular structures and darkly pigmented cells in permineralized late Precambrian fossils from Namibia and China are also compatible with interpretation as lichens. The presumed marine habitat of Ediacaran fossils is not crucial to interpretation as lichens, because fungi and lichens live in the sea as well as on land.

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