Paleoecology of benthic community replacement



The literature of community paleoecology is filled with examples in which long-term environmentally-controlled faunal transitions are misidentified as forms of ecologic succession. This has obscured a fundamental community-level process - community replacement - involving gradual to abrupt substitution of one benthic community for another as a result of subtle to sharp changes in habitats over subevolutionary time. In gradually changing environments, replacement takes place through conformational reorganization of species-abundance distributions within established communities, yielding sequences of slightly different fossil associations. Environments that change very rapidly drastically feature a different type of community replacement involving species turnover, wherein environmental tolerance limits of community members are closely approached or exceeded. Paleoecologists should be alert to the strong likelihood that many temporal transitions involving autochthonous fossil associations are, in fact, community replacement sequences.