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The 'explosion' of complex life on Earth was much slower than previously thought and took around 40 million years, according to new research.
The 'Cambrian explosion' is one of the most significant events in the planet's 4.5-billion-year history and ultimately led to the arrival of complex animals like humans.
New - Research - Event - Place - Years
New research shows the event - which took place between 500 and 540 million years ago - was a much more gradual process than first thought.
The timing changes how we view and interpret the emergence of euarthropods, the most important group since the dawn of animals, during the explosion.
Groups - Evolution - Characteristics - Limbs
By working out which groups developed first we can trace the evolution of physical characteristics like limbs.
The euarthropods include the insects, crustaceans, spiders, marine creatures called trilobites and a huge diversity of other species that sprung into existence after the Cambrian explosion.
Cent - Species - Components - Earth - Ecosystems
They comprise more than 80 per cent of all species and are key components of all of Earth's modern ecosystems.
The new fossil study is the most comprehensive of its kind and sheds fresh light on their emergence - showing a gradual radiation.
Professor - Allison - Daley - Oxford - University
Professor Allison Daley, of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said: 'This indicates the Cambrian Explosion - rather than being a sudden event - unfolded gradually over the 40 million years of the lower to middle Cambrian.'
The study analysed early euarthropods from every different possible type of fossil preservation.
Theories - Evolution - Radiation - Euarthropods - Cambrian
It contradicts two major theories of early animal evolution by showing - taken together - the radiation of euarthropods during the early Cambrian was gradual.
The first hypothesis suggests a similarly slow evolution of euarthropods but starting 650 to 600 million years ago - consistent with earlier fossil dating estimates.
Claims - Euarthropods - Years
The other claims the euarthropods appeared almost instantaneously 540 million years...
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