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Ancient life and moving fluids

Cite this dataset

Gibson, Brandt M. et al. (2020). Ancient life and moving fluids [Dataset]. Dryad.


Over 3.7 billion years of Earth history, life has evolved complex adaptations to help navigate and interact with the fluid environment. Consequently, fluid dynamics has become a powerful tool for studying ancient fossils, providing insights into the paleobiology and -ecology of extinct organisms from across the tree of life. In recent years, this approach has been extended to the Ediacara biota, an enigmatic assemblage of Neoproterozoic soft-bodied organisms that represent the first major radiation of macroscopic eukaryotes. Reconstructing the ways in which Ediacaran organisms interacted with the fluids has provided new insights into how these organisms fed, moved, and interacted within communities. In this paper, we provide an in-depth review of fluid physics aimed at paleobiologists, in which we dispel misconceptions related to the Reynolds number and associated flow conditions, and specify the governing equations of fluid dynamics. We then review recent advances in Ediacaran paleobiology resulting from the application of computational fluid dynamics (CFD). We provide a worked example and account of best practice in CFD analyses of fossils, including the first large eddy simulations (LES) performed on extinct organisms. Lastly, we identify key questions, barriers, and emerging techniques in fluid dynamics, which will not only allow us to better understand the earliest animal ecosystems, but also help develop new paleobiological tools for studying ancient life.


CFD simulations were constructed in COMOSL Multiphysics 5.5. Original data model (Ernietta) embedded was constructed in COMSOL and subsquently smoothed using VG Studio Max. 

Usage notes

Requires COMSOL Multiphysics 5.5 or greater to run.


National Science Foundation, Award: NSF EAR-1735992

National Geographic Society, Award: 9968-16

Vanderbilt University, Award: Alberstadt-Reesman-Stearns Research Grants

Paleontological Society, Award: Arthur Boucot Award

National Science Foundation, Award: NSF EAR-2007928