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Pteridinium simplex is an iconic erniettomorph taxon best known from late Ediacaran successions in South Australia, Russia, and Namibia. Despite nearly 100 years of study, there remain fundamental questions surrounding the paleobiology and paleoecology of this organism, including its life position relative to the sediment–water interface, and how it fed and functioned within benthic communities. Here, we combine a redescription of specimens housed at the Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum Frankfurt with field observations of fossiliferous surfaces, to constrain the life habit of Pteridinium and gain insights into the character of benthic ecosystems shortly before the beginning of the Cambrian. We present paleontological and sedimentological evidence suggesting that Pteridinium was semi-infaunal and lived gregariously in aggregated communities, preferentially adopting an orientation with the long axis perpendicular to the prevailing current direction. Using computational fluid dynamics simulations, we demonstrate that this life habit could plausibly have led to suspended food particles settling within the organism's central cavity. This supports interpretation of Pteridinium as a macroscopic suspension feeder that functioned similarly to the coeval erniettomorph Ernietta, emblematic of a broader paleoecological shift toward benthic suspension-feeding strategies over the course of the latest Ediacaran. Finally, we discuss how this new reconstruction of Pteridinium provides information concerning its potential relationships with extant animal groups and state a case for reconstructing Pteridinium as a colonial metazoan.
X-ray computed tomography (CT) provides a nondestructive means of studying the inside and outside of objects. It allows accurate visualization and measurement of internal features, that are otherwise impossible to obtain nondestructively, and is a lasting digital record that can be made available to future researchers, museums, and the general public. Here, an overview of CT scanning methodologies and protocol is provided, as well as some recent examples of how this technology is allowing paleontologists to make new inroads into understanding the ecology, evolution, and development of both extant and extinct organisms. Lastly, some frontiers and outstanding questions in the acquisition, processing, and storage of digital 3-D morphological data are highlighted.
The Pliocene fossil porpoise SDSNH 65276 has extremely elongate mandibular morphology, unlike that of any marine amniote, and is superficially most similar to the living bird species known as skimmers (Rynchops sp.). Endocasts of the pterygoid sinuses and endocranial cavity were digitally segmented from high-resolution X-ray CT scans of the specimen to explore internal anatomy of functionally and phylogenetically important anatomical features of this specimen and odontocetes in general. The sinuses are similar in volume and shape to extant porpoise species, but the dorsal extension of the preorbital lobes are particularly elongate as in the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). The cranial endocast also shows similarities with extant porpoises, but has much deeper interhemispheric fissures, which are filled by ossified meninges, particularly a deep falx cerebri and shallower tentorium cerebelli. Ossifications of these parts of the meninges may reflect faster angular accelerations of the head, deeper diving ability, or both. Penetrations of the endocranial cavity for cranial nerves and blood vessels are like those of extant porpoises. The internal skull morphology of this unique delphinoid sheds additional light both on its phylogenetic affinities and novel odontocete adaptations.
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