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The names don’t matter but the numbers do: searching for stability in Carboniferous brachiopod paleocommunities from the North American Midcontinent

Citation

Strotz, Luke; Lieberman, Bruce (2021), The names don’t matter but the numbers do: searching for stability in Carboniferous brachiopod paleocommunities from the North American Midcontinent, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.9p8cz8wf3

Abstract

A key question in paleoecology and macroevolution is whether assemblages of species (paleocommunities) are persistent entities that endure over millions of years. Whilst community turnover in the face of abiotic change is the presumed norm, paleocommunities have been shown to persist for long time periods and regardless of environmental disruption. It remains an open question however, as to what processes allow for this. We investigate these questions by analyzing the Carboniferous brachiopod paleocommunities from the Midcontinent of North America. These diverse communities were subjected to repeated and geologically rapid changes in sea level. Using a suite of statistical techniques, we characterize the nature and scope of changes in these paleocommunities over time. We find that, at the paleocommunity scale, there is no evidence for obdurate ecological stasis, with fluctuations in both taxonomic composition and the associated abundance of taxa. However, at a higher ecological scale, stability is manifest, as diversity patterns remain stable across time, with a consistent number of species that can exist in any given paleocommunity. This suggests ecological rules such as taxon packing are in effect, resulting in a form of ecological stability even in the face of constant disequilibrium, and parallels ecological patterns of disruption and recovery previously observed for invertebrate communities from modern marine systems. Based on these results, we advocate for consideration of different hierarchical entities and scales when interpreting the ecological dynamics of fossil assemblages, as focusing exclusively on changes in taxon identity/abundance or diversity levels can lead to very different results.

Funding

National Science Foundation, Award: EF 1206757

National Science Foundation, Award: DBI 1602067