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First to Float: Investigating the Taphonomy and Morphology of Attenborites janae From the Nilpena Ediacara National Park


The Ediacaran fossil taxon Attenborites janae was originally excavated in 2017 from the Ediacara Member of the Nilpena Ediacara National Park (Nilpena, Droser et al, 2018). Attenborites was described as a potentially pelagic organism that had undergone deflation during preservation. This thesis tests this hypothesis by examining the taphonomy and preservational morphology of Attenborites using an additional 55 specimens recently excavated from Nilpena. The life habit of Attenborites is determined by comparing the characteristics of known benthic Ediacaran organisms and evaluating the preservational morphology and taphonomy of Attenborites according to criteria for the preservation of early soft-bodied pelagic forms put forth by Young and Hagadorn (2010). It is concluded that Attenborites was most likely a pelagic organism, consistent with findings in the original description of Attenborites. This taxon is thus the first known macroscopic inhabitant of the pelagic realm. In identifying the life habit of Attenborites, criteria for identifying the preservation of Ediacaran pelagic taxa in the fossil record were created.This thesis was focuses on developing methods for the retrodeformation of deflated taxa and characterization of the in vivo morphology of Attenborites janae. Laser scans taken of the fossils in the field were simulated to inflate using the 3D modeling software Blender. This is a novel effort because no soft-bodied fossil taxon has ever been retrodeformed. This approach led to the characterization of then-living Attenborites as ellipsoid forms with relatively smooth surfaces and confirmed that the ridges found within the fossils are taphonomic features formed during deflation rather than true morphological features.

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