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Distinguishing Biology from Geology in Soft-Tissue Preservation

  • John A. Cunningham (a1) (a2), Philip C. J. Donoghue (a1) and Stefan Bengtson (a2)

Abstract

Knowledge of evolutionary history is based extensively on relatively rare fossils that preserve soft tissues. These fossils record a much greater proportion of anatomy than would be known solely from mineralized remains and provide key data for testing evolutionary hypotheses in deep time. Ironically, however, exceptionally preserved fossils are often among the most contentious because they are difficult to interpret. This is because their morphology has invariably been affected by the processes of decay and diagenesis, meaning that it is often difficult to distinguish preserved biology from artifacts introduced by these processes. Here we describe how a range of analytical techniques can be used to tease apart mineralization that preserves biological structures from unrelated geological mineralization phases. This approach involves using a series of X-ray, ion, electron and laser beam techniques to characterize the texture and chemistry of the different phases so that they can be differentiated in material that is difficult to interpret. This approach is demonstrated using a case study of its application to the study of fossils from the Ediacaran Doushantuo Biota.

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Distinguishing Biology from Geology in Soft-Tissue Preservation

  • John A. Cunningham (a1) (a2), Philip C. J. Donoghue (a1) and Stefan Bengtson (a2)

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