The oldest known digestive system consisting of both paired digestive glands and a crop from exceptionally preserved trilobites of the Guanshan Biota (Early Cambrian, China)
OPEN PloS one | 22 Sep 2017
MJ Hopkins, F Chen, S Hu and Z Zhang
The early Cambrian Guanshan biota of eastern Yunnan, China, contains exceptionally preserved animals and algae. Most diverse and abundant are the arthropods, of which there are at least 11 species of trilobites represented by numerous specimens. Many trilobite specimens show soft-body preservation via iron oxide pseudomorphs of pyrite replacement. Here we describe digestive structures from two species of trilobite, Palaeolenus lantenoisi and Redlichia mansuyi. Multiple specimens of both species contain the preserved remains of an expanded stomach region (a “crop”) under the glabella, a structure which has not been observed in trilobites this old, despite numerous examples of trilobite gut traces from other Cambrian Lagerstätten. In addition, at least one specimen of Palaeolenus lantenoisi shows the preservation of an unusual combination of digestive structures: a crop and paired digestive glands along the alimentary tract. This combination of digestive structures has also never been observed in trilobites this old, and is rare in general, with prior evidence of it from one juvenile trilobite specimen from the late Cambrian Orsten fauna of Sweden and possibly one adult trilobite specimen from the Early Ordovician Fezouata Lagerstätte. The variation in the fidelity of preservation of digestive structures within and across different Lagerstätten may be due to variation in the type, quality, and point of digestion of food among specimens in addition to differences in mode of preservation. The presence and combination of these digestive features in the Guanshan trilobites contradicts current models of how the trilobite digestive system was structured and evolved over time. Most notably, the crop is not a derived structure as previously proposed, although it is possible that the relative size of the crop increased over the evolutionary history of the clade.
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