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Ediacara growing pains: Modular addition and development in Dickinsonia costata

Cite this dataset

Evans, Scott; Gehling, James G.; Erwin, Douglas; Droser, Mary (2021). Ediacara growing pains: Modular addition and development in Dickinsonia costata [Dataset]. Dryad.


Constraining patterns of growth using directly observable and quantifiable characteristics can reveal a wealth of information regarding the biology of the Ediacara Biota – the oldest macroscopic, complex community forming organisms in the fossil record. However, these rely on individuals captured at an instant in time at various growth stages, and so different interpretations can be derived from the same material. Here we leverage newly discovered and well-preserved Dickinsonia costata Sprigg 1947 from South Australia, combined with hundreds of previously described specimens, to test competing hypotheses for the location of module addition. We find considerable variation in the relationship between the total number of modules and body size that cannot be explained solely by expansion and contraction of individuals. Patterns derived assuming new modules differentiated at the anterior result in numerous examples where the oldest module(s) must decrease in size with overall growth, potentially falsifying this hypothesis. Observed polarity as well as the consistent posterior location of defects and indentations support module formation at this end in D. costata. Regardless, changes in repeated units with growth share similarities with those regulated by morphogen gradients in metazoans today, suggesting that these genetic pathways were operating in Ediacaran animals.


The majority of measurements were obtained using digital photographs and the freely available Image J software ( Additional measurements were collecting using digital calipers either directly on fossil specimens or from latex molds. Measurements of module length at the midline and outer margin were determined using straight line approximations, while module width was measured along the sinusoidal path from the midline to outer margin. 

Usage notes

See ReadMe file for explanation of variables and measurements.


NASA Exobiology, Award: NNX14AJ86G

NASA Exobiology, Award: NNX14AJ86G