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The Burgess Shale paleocommunity with new insights from Marble Canyon, British Columbia

Cite this dataset

Nanglu, Karma; Caron, Jean-Bernard; Gaines, Robert (2019). The Burgess Shale paleocommunity with new insights from Marble Canyon, British Columbia [Dataset]. Dryad.


The middle (Wuliuan Stage) Cambrian Burgess Shale is famous for its exceptional preservation of diverse and abundant soft-bodied animals through the “thick” Stephen Formation. However, with the exception of the Walcott Quarry (Fossil Ridge) and the stratigraphically older Tulip Beds (Mount Stephen) which are both in Yoho National Park (British Columbia), quantitative assessments of the Burgess Shale have remained limited. Here we first provide a detailed quantitative overview of the diversity and structure of the Marble Canyon Burgess Shale locality based on 16,438 specimens. Located 40 km southeast of the Walcott Quarry in Kootenay National Park (British Columbia), Marble Canyon represents the youngest site of the “thick” Stephen Formation. We then combine paleoecological datasets from Marble Canyon, Walcott Quarry, Tulip Beds and for the first time, the Raymond Quarry, which lies ca. 20 m directly above the Walcott Quarry, to yield a combined species abundance dataset of 77,179 specimens encompassing 234 taxa. Material from the Tulip Beds comes from talus slopes whereas material from all the other localities was collected in situ and comes from stratigraphically constrained intervals of at least 2 m. Marble Canyon shows significant temporal changes in both taxonomic and ecological groups, suggesting periods of stasis followed by rapid turnover patterns at local and short temporal scales. At wider geographic and temporal scales, the different Burgess Shale sites occupy distinct areas in multivariate space. Overall, this suggests that the Burgess Shale palaeocommunity is far patchier than previously thought and varies at both local and regional scales through the “thick” Stephen Formation. This underscores that our understanding of Cambrian diversity and ecological networks, particularly in early animal ecosystems, remains limited and highly dependent on new discoveries.