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PhD: Small Carbonaceous Fossil Assemblages in the Burgess Shale

Project Title

Small Carbonaceous Fossil Assemblages in the Burgess Shale


Durham University

Supervisors and Institutions

Martin Smith (Durham University), Jean-Bernard Caron (Royal Ontario Museum / University of Toronto), Tim Raub (University of St Andrews), Dave Harper (Durham University)

Funding Status

Funding is in competition with other projects and students

Project Description

The early stages of the Cambrian witnessed an unmatched period of ecological escalation, culminating in the establishment of biological communities with a fundamentally modern constitution.

Such assemblages are briefly visible in sites of exceptional soft tissue preservation such as the mid-Cambrian Burgess Shale — but such sites offer a restricted sampling of palaeoenvironments and time,
and largely post-date the period of the Cambrian ‘explosion’ itself.

An alternative, fundamentally more representative rendering of early Cambrian life is provided by
assemblages of small carbonaceous fossils (SCF) —which represent the teeth, scales, claws and other
robust components of pioneering Cambrian organisms. SCF assemblages offer to provide a more comprehensive perspective on the gradual rise and diversification of Cambrian communities — but are
likely subject to a suite of taphonomic biases.

Understanding the correspondence between SCF assemblages and original animal communities is
essential to tracking the rate and pattern of evolution through the period of the Cambrian explosion. The
Burgess Shale offers a unique opportunity to link SCF assemblages to bed-by-bed level surveys of
representative macrofossil communities. This reconciliation of microfossil and macrofossil assemblages will yield a new understanding of the preservational biases associated with each taphonomic mode, and establish approaches to inferring original communities from fossil assemblages.

Taken together, this fossil project will unlock the SCF record as a chronicle of early Cambrian evolution, bringing a new perspective on the increasing complexity of animal assemblages through the pivotal period of the Cambrian explosion.

Contact Name

Martin Smith

Contact Email

Link to More Information

Closing Date

Friday, January 19, 2018

Expiry Date

Saturday, January 20, 2018
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