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Fossil Biomarkers and Biosignatures Preserved in Coprolites Reveal Carnivorous Diets in the Carboniferous Mazon Creek Ecosystem

Tripp, Madison and Wiemann, Jasmina and Brocks, Jochen J. and Mayer, Paul and Schwark, Lorenz and Grice, Kliti (2022) Fossil Biomarkers and Biosignatures Preserved in Coprolites Reveal Carnivorous Diets in the Carboniferous Mazon Creek Ecosystem. Biology, 11 (9). Art. No. 1289. ISSN 2079-7737. doi:10.3390/biology11091289.

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The reconstruction of ancient trophic networks is pivotal to our understanding of ecosystem function and change through time. However, inferring dietary relationships in enigmatic ecosystems dominated by organisms without modern analogues, such as the Carboniferous Mazon Creek fauna, has previously been considered challenging: preserved coprolites often do not retain sufficient morphology to identify the dietary composition. Here, we analysed n = 3 Mazon Creek coprolites in concretions for dietary signals in preserved biomarkers, stable carbon isotope data, and macromolecular composition. Cholesteroids, metazoan markers of cholesterol, show an increased abundance in the sampled coprolites (86 to 99% of the total steranes) compared to the surrounding sediment, indicating an endogenous nature of preserved organics. Presence of unaltered 5α-cholestan-3β-ol and coprostanol underline the exceptional molecular preservation of the coprolites, and reveal a carnivorous diet for the coprolite producer. Statistical analyses of in situ Raman spectra targeting coprolite carbonaceous remains support a metazoan affinity of the digested fossil remains, and suggest a high trophic level for the coprolite producer. These currently oldest, intact dietary stanols, combined with exquisitely preserved macromolecular biosignatures in Carboniferous fossils offer a novel source of trophic information. Molecular and biosignature preservation is facilitated by rapid sedimentary encapsulation of the coprolites within days to months after egestion.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription
Tripp, Madison0000-0002-1128-6687
Wiemann, Jasmina0000-0003-3581-1711
Brocks, Jochen J.0000-0002-8430-8744
Grice, Kliti0000-0003-2136-3508
Additional Information:We thank Peter Hopper, Alex Holman and Janet Hope for their technical support with GC-MS and stable isotope analyses. Tripp thanks Curtin University for a Research Training Postgraduate award, The Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering for an AINSE Postgraduate Research Award and support from The Institute for Geoscience Research for Star-fish Soxhlet extraction apparatus. Part of this research was undertaken using the XRD instrumentation at the John de Laeter Centre, Curtin University. Tripp thanks Veronica Avery and Matthew Rowles for technical assistance with XRD analysis. We thank Scott Lidgard (Field Museum, Chicago) for providing samples. We thank the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that helped improve this manuscript. This research was funded by Australian Research Council (ARC) for an ARC-Laureate Fellowship grant (FL210100103) and ARC infrastructure grants (LE110100119; LE100100041; LE0882836; LE0668345; LE0775551).
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Australian Research CouncilFL210100103
Australian Research CouncilLE0775551
Australian Research CouncilLE0668345
Australian Research CouncilLE0882836
Australian Research CouncilLE100100041
Australian Research CouncilLE110100119
Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE)UNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:9
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220930-482429300.9
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:117194
Deposited By: Melissa Ray
Deposited On:04 Oct 2022 14:33
Last Modified:04 Oct 2022 14:33

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