Half-billion-year-old fossils offer new clues to how life exploded on the sea floor

phys.org | 9/14/2018 | Staff
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Stephen Pates, a researcher from Oxford University's Department of Zoology, has uncovered secrets from the ancient oceans.

With Dr. Rudy Lerosey-Aubril from New England University (Australia), he meticulously re-examined fossil material collected over 25 years ago from the mountains of Utah, USA. The research, published in a new study in Nature Communications, reveals further evidence of the great complexity of the oldest animal ecosystems.

Hours - Work - Needle - Specimen - Underwater

Twenty hours of work with a needle on the specimen while submerged underwater exposed numerous, delicate microscopic hair-like structures known as setae. This revelation of a frontal appendage with fine filtering setae has allowed researchers to confidently identify it as a radiodont – an extinct group of stem arthropods and distant relatives of modern crabs, insects and spiders.

"Our new study describes Pahvantia hastasta, a long-extinct relative of modern arthropods, which fed on microscopic organisms near the ocean's surface," says Stephen Pates. "We discovered that it used a fine mesh to capture much smaller plankton than any other known swimming animal of comparable size from the Cambrian period. This shows that large free-swimming animals helped to kick-start the diversification of life on the sea floor over half a billion years ago."

Causes - Cambrian - Explosion—the - Appearance - Fossil

Causes of the Cambrian Explosion—the rapid appearance in the fossil record of a diverse animal fauna around 540-500 million years ago—remain hotly debated. Although it probably included a combination of environmental and ecological factors, the establishment of a system to transfer energy from the area of primary production (the surface ocean) to that of highest diversity (the sea floor) played a crucial role.

Even though relatively small for a radiodont (FIG), Pahvantia was 10-1000 times larger than any mesoplanktonic primary consumers, and so would have made the transfer of energy from the surface oceans to the deep sea much more efficient. Primary producers such as unicellular algae are so small...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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