U of S Geology research reveals animal evolution surged ahead in stable Cambrian ecology

A research team led by University of Saskatchewan Professor Luis Buatois is providing new evidence to understand the evolution of life at the beginning of the Cambrian period, half a billion years ago.

"During the Cambrian period the face of our planet changed forever and there are still many unanswered questions," said Buatois, from the Department of Geological Sciences. "I think that our work is showing that the Cambrian was unique in that it witnessed the appearance of modern group of animals, but at the same time the ecology remained similar to that of the Ediacaran for several million years".

The paper, recently published in Nature Communications, was based on the study of an area in eastern Newfoundland, Canada, which contains a continuous record of strata formed during the transition between the Cambrian and earlier Ediacaran periods.

Buatois' research is shows the disappearance of the Ediacara biota representing an abrupt evolutionary event that corresponded with the appearance of modern animals, rather than  fading away due to the gradual elimination of conditions appropriate for Ediacaran preservation.

The Cambrian period was a time of dramatic biological and sedimentary changes that ultimately led to the development of our modern world. Prior to the Cambrian, most marine sediment was covered by microbial mats that were host for the bizarre, soft-bodied creatures of the Ediacara biota.

One prevalent hypothesis argues that this fauna did not actually go extinct at the beginning of the Cambrian, but instead conditions for preserving the delicate impressions of Ediacaran soft-bodied organisms disappeared with the arrival of burrowing in the Cambrian, and the loss of elements that were instrumental in their preservation as fossils.

"Discoveries like this are so important because they are at the core of our understanding of early evolutionary breakthroughs," said Buatois.

The paper titled "Ediacaran matground ecology persisted into the earliest Cambrian" involved a multinational team from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada), Queen's University (Canada), the Universidad Nacional de Río Negro (Argentina) and the Colorado College (USA).


For more information, please contact:

Jennifer Thoma

Media relations

University of Saskatchewan

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