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Burgess Shale
Marrella, the most abundant Burgess Shale organism.
Marrella, the most abundant Burgess Shale organism.
Type Geological formation
Age Middle Cambrian
O
S
D
C
P
T
J
K
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Unit of Stephen Formation
Thickness 161 meters (528 ft)[1]
Lithology
Primary Shale
Location
Named for Burgess Pass
Named by Charles Doolittle Walcott, 1911
Coordinates 51°26′N 116°28′W / 51.433°N 116.467°W / 51.433; -116.467
Region Yoho National Park
Country Canada
Part of a series on
The Burgess Shale
Marrella cartoon.svg
Fossils
Cambrian explosion
Part of a series on
The Cambrian explosion
Cambrian explosion taskforce logo.svg
Fossil localities
Key organisms
Ediacara biota
Burgess-type
Small shelly fauna
Evolutionary concepts
Trends
Themes

  • taskforce

  • taskforce

The Burgess Shale Formation — located in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia — is one of the world's most celebrated fossil fields,[2] and the best of its kind.[3] It is famous for the exceptional preservation of the soft parts of its fossils. It is 505 million years (Middle Cambrian) old,[4] one of the earliest soft-parts fossil beds.

The rock unit is a black shale, and crops out at a number of localities near the town of Field in the Yoho National Park.

Contents

History and significance

The first complete Anomalocaris fossil found.

The Burgess Shale was discovered by palaeontologist Charles Walcott in 1909, towards the end of the season's fieldwork.[5] He returned in 1910 with his sons, establishing a quarry on the flanks of Fossil Ridge. The significance of soft-bodied preservation, and the range of organisms he recognised as new to science, led him to return to the quarry almost every year until 1924. At this point, aged 74, he had amassed over 65,000 specimens. Describing the fossils was a vast task, pursued by Walcott until his death in 1927.[5] Walcott, led by scientific opinion at the time, attempted to categorise all fossils into living taxa, and as a result, the fossils were regarded as little more than curiosities at the time. It was not until 1962 that a first-hand reinvestigation of the fossils was attempted, by Alberto Simonetta. This led scientists to recognise that Walcott had barely scratched the surface of information available in the Burgess Shale, and also made it clear that the organisms did not fit comfortably into modern groups.

Excavations were resumed at the Walcott quarry by the Geological Survey of Canada under the persuasion of trilobite expert Harry Blackmore Whittington, and a new quarry, the Raymond, was established about 20 metres higher up Fossil Ridge.[5] Whittington, with the help of research students Derek Briggs and Simon Conway Morris of the University of Cambridge, began a thorough reassessment of the Burgess Shale, and revealed that the fauna represented were much more diverse and unusual than Walcott had recognized.[5] Indeed, many of the animals present had bizarre anatomical features and only the sketchiest resemblance to other known animals. Examples include Opabinia, with five eyes and a snout like a vacuum cleaner hose; Nectocaris, which resembles either a crustacean with fins or a vertebrate with a shell; and Hallucigenia, which was originally reconstructed upside down, walking on bilaterally symmetrical spines.

With Parks Canada and UNESCO recognising the significance of the Burgess Shale, collecting fossils became politically more difficult from the mid-1970s. Collections continued to be made by the Royal Ontario Museum. The curator of invertebrate palaeontology, Desmond Collins, identified a number of additional outcrops, stratigraphically both higher and lower than the original Walcott quarry.[5] These localities continue to yield new organisms faster than they can be studied.

Stephen Jay Gould's book Wonderful Life, published in 1989, brought the Burgess Shale fossils to the public's attention. Gould suggests that the extraordinary diversity of the fossils indicate that life forms at the time were much more diverse than those that survive today, and that many of the unique lineages were evolutionary experiments that became extinct. Gould's interpretation of the diversity of Cambrian fauna relied heavily on Simon Conway Morris' reinterpretation of Charles Walcott's original publications. However, Conway Morris strongly disagreed with Gould's conclusions, arguing that almost all the Cambrian fauna could be classified into modern day phyla.[6]

Geological setting

Satellite image of the area.

The fossiliferous deposits of the Burgess Shale correlate to the Stephen formation, a collection of slightly calcareous dark mudstones, about 505 million years old.[5] The beds were deposited at the base of a cliff about 160 m tall,[5] below the depth agitated by waves during storms.[7] This vertical cliff was composed of the calcareous reefs of the Cathedral formation, which probably formed shortly before the deposition of the Burgess shale.[5] The precise formation mechanism is not known for certain, but the most widely accepted hypothesis suggests that the edge of the Cathedral formation reef became detached from the rest of the reef, slumping and being transported some distance — perhaps kilometers — away from the reef edge.[5] Later reactivation of faults at the base of the formation led to its disintegration from about 509 million years ago.[8] This would have left a steep cliff, the bottom of which would be protected, because the limestone of the Cathedral formation is difficult to compress, from tectonic decompression. This protection explains why fossils preserved further from the Cathedral formation are impossible to work with — tectonic squeezing of the beds has produced a vertical cleavage that fractures the rocks, so they split perpendicular to the fossils.[5] The Walcott quarry produced such spectacular fossils because it was so close to the Stephen formation — indeed the quarry has now been excavated to the very edge of the Cambrian cliff.[5]

It was originally thought that the Burgess Shale was deposited in anoxic conditions, but mounting research shows that oxygen was continually present in the sediment.[9] The anoxic setting had been thought to not only protect the newly dead organisms from decay, but it also created chemical conditions allowing the preservation of the soft parts of the organisms. Further, it reduced the abundance of burrowing organisms — burrows and trackways are found in beds containing soft-bodied organisms, but they are rare and generally of limited vertical extent.[5] Brine seeps are an alternative hypothesis - see Burgess Shale type preservation for a more thorough discussion.

Stratigraphy

Walcott Quarry of the Burgess Shale showing the Walcott Quarry Shale Member.

The Burgess Shale Formation comprises 10 members, the most famous being the Walcott Quarry Shale Member comprising the greater phyllopod bed.[7]

Taphonomy and diagenesis

Please expand this section[10][11][12][13][14][15]

There are many other comparable Cambrian lagerstätten; indeed such assemblages are far more common in the Cambrian than in any other period. This is mainly due to the limited extent of burrowing activity; as such bioturbation became more prevalent throughout the Cambrian, environments capable of preserving organisms' soft parts became much rarer.[5] (The pre-Cambrian fossil record of animals is sparse and ambiguous.)

Biota

The biota of the Burgess Shale appears to be typical of Middle Cambrian deposits.[5] Although the hard-part bearing organisms make up as little as 14% of the community,[5] these same organisms are found in similar proportions in other Cambrian localities. This means that there is no reason to assume that the organisms without hard parts are exceptional in any way; indeed, many appear in other lagerstätten of different age and locations.[5]

The biota consists of a range of organisms. Free-swimming (nectonic) organisms are relatively rare, with the majority of organisms being bottom dwelling (benthic) — either moving about (vagrant) or permanently attached to the sea floor (sessile).[5] About two-thirds of the Burgess Shale organisms lived by feeding on the organic content in the muddy sea floor, while almost a third filtered out fine particles from the water column. Under 10% of organisms were predators or scavengers, although since these organisms were larger, the biomass was split equally between each of the filter feeding, deposit feeding, predatory and scavenging organisms.[5]

See also

References

  1. ^ Lexicon of Canadian Geological Units. "Burgess Shale". http://cgkn1.cgkn.net/weblex/weblex_litho_detail_e.pl?00053:002016. Retrieved 2009-02-06.  
  2. ^ Gabbott, Sarah E. (2001). "Exceptional Preservation". Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. doi:10.1038/npg.els.0001622.  
  3. ^ Collins, D. (Aug 2009). "Misadventures in the Burgess Shale". Nature 460 (7258): 952. doi:10.1038/460952a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 19693066.   edit
  4. ^ Butterfield, N.J. (2006). "Hooking some stem-group" worms": fossil lophotrochozoans in the Burgess Shale". Bioessays 28 (12): 1161. doi:10.1002/bies.20507. PMID 17120226.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Briggs, D.E.G.; Erwin, D.H.; Collier, F.J. (1995), Fossils of the Burgess Shale, Washington: Smithsonian Inst Press, ISBN 156098659x, OCLC 231793738  
  6. ^ The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals , Simon Conway Morris
  7. ^ a b Gabbott, S.E.; Zalasiewicz, J.; Collins, D. (2008). "Sedimentation of the Phyllopod Bed within the Cambrian Burgess Shale Formation of British Columbia". Journal of Geological Society 165 (1): 307. doi:10.1144/0016-76492007-023. http://jgs.lyellcollection.org/cgi/content/abstract/165/1/307.  
  8. ^ Collom, C. J. (2009). "Reinterpretation of ‘Middle’ Cambrian stratigraphy of the rifted western Laurentian margin: Burgess Shale Formation and contiguous units (Sauk II Megasequence); Rocky Mountains, Canada". Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology 277: 63–85. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2009.02.012.   edit
  9. ^ Powell, W. (2009). "Comparison of Geochemical and Distinctive Mineralogical Features Associated with the Kinzers and Burgess Shale Formations and their Associated Units". Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology 277: 127–140. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2009.02.016.   edit
  10. ^ Butterfield, N.J. (1990). "Organic Preservation of Non-Mineralizing Organisms and the Taphonomy of the Burgess Shale". Paleobiology 16 (3): 272–286. http://www.jstor.org/pss/2400788. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  
  11. ^ Butterfield, N.J. (2002). "Leanchoilia guts and the interpretation of three-dimensional structures in Burgess Shale-type fossils". Paleobiology 28 (1): 155–171. doi:10.1666/0094-8373(2002)028<0155:LGATIO>2.0.CO;2.  
  12. ^ Orr, Patrick J.; Briggs, Derek E. G.; Kearns, Stuart L. (1998). "Cambrian Burgess Shale Animals Replicated in Clay Minerals". Science (AAAS) 281 (5380): 1173. doi:10.1126/science.281.5380.1173. PMID 9712577. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/281/5380/1173. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  
  13. ^ CARON, JEAN-BERNARD; JACKSON, DONALD A. (2006). "Taphonomy Of The Greater Phyllopod Bed Community, Burgess Shale". PALAIOS (Society for Sedimentary Geology) 21 (5): 451–465. doi:10.2110/palo.2003.P05-070R.  
  14. ^ Gaines, R.R.; Kennedy, M.J.; Droser, M.L. (2005). "A new hypothesis for organic preservation of Burgess Shale taxa in the middle Cambrian Wheeler Formation, House Range, Utah". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (Elsevier) 220 (1–2): 193–205. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2004.07.034. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S003101820400584X. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  
  15. ^ Butterfield, N.J.; Balthasar, U.W.E.; Wilson, L.A. (2007). "Fossil Diagenesis In The Burgess Shale". Palaeontology (Blackwell Synergy) 50 (3): 537–543. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4983.2007.00656.x. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1475-4983.2007.00656.x. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  

Further reading

  • Simon Conway Morris, The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998 (paperback 1999) ISBN 0-19-850197-8 (hbk), ISBN 0-19-286202-2 (pbk)
  • Richard Fortey, Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution, Flamingo, 2001. ISBN 0-00-655138-6
  • Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Vintage, 2000. ISBN 0-09-927345-4
  • Derek E. G. Briggs, Douglas H. Erwin, & Frederick J. Collier, The Fossils of the Burgess Shale, Smithsonian, 1994. ISBN1-56098-364-7

Sources


Simple English

[[File:|thumb|right|230px|Marrella, the most abundant Burgess Shale organism.]] fossil found.]] The Burgess Shale Formation — located in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia — is one of the world's most celebrated fossil fields,[1] and the best of its kind.[2] It is famous for the exceptional preservation of the soft parts of its fossils. It is ~505 million years old (Middle Cambrian),[3] one of the earliest soft-parts fossil beds.

The rock unit is a black shale, and crops out at a number of localities near the town of Field in the Yoho National Park.

The Burgess Shale was discovered by palaeontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott in 1909, towards the end of the season's fieldwork.[4][5] He returned in 1910 with his sons, and established a quarry on the flanks of Fossil Ridge. The fact that fossils were of soft-bodied forms, and the range of organisms new to science, led him to return to the quarry almost every year until 1924. At this point, aged 74, he had amassed over 65,000 specimens. Describing the fossils was a vast task, pursued by Walcott until his death in 1927. Walcott, led by scientific opinion at the time, attempted to categorise all fossils into living taxa. As a result, the fossils were regarded as little more than curiosities at the time. It was not until 1962 that a first-hand reinvestigation of the fossils was attempted, by Alberto Simonetta. This led scientists to recognise that Walcott had barely scratched the surface of information available in the Burgess Shale. It was clear that the organisms did not fit comfortably into modern groups.

  • Lagerstätte

References

  1. Gabbott, Sarah E. (2001). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Exceptional preservation"]. Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. doi:10.1038/npg.els.0001622. 
  2. Collins, D. (Aug 2009). Misadventures in the Burgess Shale. Nature 460 (7258): 952. doi:10.1038/460952a. PMID 19693066.
  3. Butterfield, N.J. (2006). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Hooking some stem-group worms: fossil lophotrochozoans in the Burgess Shale"]. Bioessays 28 (12): 1161. doi:10.1002/bies.20507. PMID 17120226. 
  4. Briggs D.E.G.; Erwin D.H.; Collier F.J. 1995. Fossils of the Burgess Shale. Washington: Smithsonian Inst Press, ISBN 156098659x, OCLC 231793738
  5. Conway Morris, Simon. The crucible of creation: the Burgess Shale and the rise of animals.


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