Experimental taphonomy of Artemia reveals the role of endogenous microbes in mediating decay and fossilization
Aodhán D. Butler, John A. Cunningham, Graham E. Budd, Philip C. J. Donoghue
Published 13 May 2015.DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0476
Exceptionally preserved fossils provide major insights into the evolutionary history of life. Microbial activity is thought to play a pivotal role in both the decay of organisms and the preservation of soft tissue in the fossil record, though this has been the subject of very little experimental investigation. To remedy this, we undertook an experimental study of the decay of the brine shrimp Artemia, examining the roles of autolysis, microbial activity, oxygen diffusion and reducing conditions. Our findings indicate that endogenous gut bacteria are the main factor controlling decay. Following gut wall rupture, but prior to cuticle failure, gut-derived microbes spread into the body cavity, consuming tissues and forming biofilms capable of mediating authigenic mineralization, that pseudomorph tissues and structures such as limbs and the haemocoel. These observations explain patterns observed in exceptionally preserved fossil arthropods. For example, guts are preserved relatively frequently, while preservation of other internal anatomy is rare. They also suggest that gut-derived microbes play a key role in the preservation of internal anatomy and that differential preservation between exceptional deposits might be because of factors that control autolysis and microbial activity. The findings also suggest that the evolution of a through gut and its bacterial microflora increased the potential for exceptional fossil preservation in bilaterians, providing one explanation for the extreme rarity of internal preservation in those animals that lack a through gut.
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