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Concept: Ordovician


A nautiloid conch containing many disarticulated exoskeletons of Omegops cornelius (Phacopidae, Trilobita) was found in the Upper Devonian Hongguleleng Formation of the northwestern margin of the Junggar Basin, NW China. The similar number of cephala, thoraces and pygidia, unbroken thoraces, explicit exuviae, and lack of other macrofossils in the conch, indicate that at least seven individual trilobites had moulted within the nautiloid living chamber, using the vacant chamber of a dead nautiloid as a communal place for ecdysis. This exuvial strategy manifests cryptic behaviour of trilobites, which may have resulted from the adaptive evolution induced by powerful predation pressure, unstable marine environments, and competition pressure of organisms occupying the same ecological niche in the Devonian period. The unusual presence of several trilobites moulting within a nautiloid conch is possibly associated with social behaviours in face of a serious crisis. New materials in this study open a window for understanding the survival strategy of marine benthic organisms, especially predator-prey interactions and the behavioural ecology of trilobites in the middle Palaeozoic.

Concepts: Arthropod, Predation, Ecology, Carboniferous, Ordovician, Trilobite, Devonian, Ecdysis


Complete, articulated crinoids from the Ordovician peri-Gondwanan margin are rare. Here, we describe a new species, Iocrinus africanus sp. nov., from the Darriwilian-age Taddrist Formation of Morocco. The anatomy of this species was studied using a combination of traditional palaeontological methods and non-destructive X-ray micro-tomography (micro-CT). This revealed critical features of the column, distal arms, and aboral cup, which were hidden in the surrounding rock and would have been inaccessible without the application of micro-CT. Iocrinus africanus sp. nov. is characterized by the presence of seven to thirteen tertibrachials, three in-line bifurcations per ray, and an anal sac that is predominantly unplated or very lightly plated. Iocrinus is a common genus in North America (Laurentia) and has also been reported from the United Kingdom (Avalonia) and Oman (middle east Gondwana). Together with Merocrinus, it represents one of the few geographically widespread crinoids during the Ordovician and serves to demonstrate that faunal exchanges between Laurentia and Gondwana occurred at this time. This study highlights the advantages of using both conventional and cutting-edge techniques (such as micro-CT) to describe the morphology of new fossil specimens.

Concepts: Genus, North America, Ordovician, Pangaea, Paleozoic, Crinoid, Baltica, Laurentia


Eurypterids are a diverse group of chelicerates known from ~250 species with a sparse Ordovician record currently comprising 11 species; the oldest fully documented example is from the Sandbian of Avalonia. The Middle Ordovician (Darriwilian) fauna of the Winneshiek Lagerstätte includes a new eurypterid species represented by more than 150 specimens, including some juveniles, preserved as carbonaceous cuticular remains. This taxon represents the oldest described eurypterid, extending the documented range of the group back some 9 million years.

Concepts: Arthropod, Ordovician, Chelicerata, Eurypterid, Merostomata, Onychopterella


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.

Concepts: Evolution, Arthropod, Stomach, Human gastrointestinal tract, Digestion, Ordovician, Trilobite, Cambrian


Trilobites were one of the most successful groups of marine arthropods during the Palaeozoic era, yet their soft-part anatomy is only known from a few exceptionally-preserved specimens found in a handful of localities from the Cambrian to the Devonian. This is because, even if the sclerotized appendages were not destroyed during early taphonomic stages, they are often overprinted by the three-dimensional, mineralised exoskeleton. Inferences about the ventral anatomy and behavioural activities of trilobites can also be derived from the ichnological record, which suggests that most Cruziana and Rusophycus trace fossils were possibly produced by the actions of trilobites. Three specimens of the asaphid trilobite Megistaspis (Ekeraspis) hammondi, have been discovered in the Lower Ordovician Fezouata Konservat-Lagerstätte of southern Morocco, preserving appendages and digestive tract. The digestive structures include a crop with digestive caeca, while the appendages display exopodal setae and slight heteropody (cephalic endopods larger and more spinose than thoracic and pygidial ones). The combination of these digestive structures and the heteropody has never been described together among trilobites, and the latter could assist in the understanding of the production of certain comb-like traces of the Cruziana rugosa group, which are extraordinarily abundant on the shallow marine shelves around Gondwana.

Concepts: Arthropod, Fossil, Gondwana, Ordovician, Trilobite, Cambrian, Paleozoic, Cruziana


Large, actively swimming suspension feeders evolved several times in Earth’s history, arising independently from groups as diverse as sharks, rays and stem teleost fishes, and in mysticete whales. However, animals occupying this niche have not been identified from the early Palaeozoic era. Anomalocarids, a group of stem arthropods that were the largest nektonic animals of the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, are generally thought to have been apex predators. Here we describe new material from Tamisiocaris borealis, an anomalocarid from the Early Cambrian (Series 2) Sirius Passet Fauna of North Greenland, and propose that its frontal appendage is specialized for suspension feeding. The appendage bears long, slender and equally spaced ventral spines furnished with dense rows of long and fine auxiliary spines. This suggests that T. borealis was a microphagous suspension feeder, using its appendages for sweep-net capture of food items down to 0.5 mm, within the size range of mesozooplankton such as copepods. Our observations demonstrate that large, nektonic suspension feeders first evolved during the Cambrian explosion, as part of an adaptive radiation of anomalocarids. The presence of nektonic suspension feeders in the Early Cambrian, together with evidence for a diverse pelagic community containing phytoplankton and mesozooplankton, indicate the existence of a complex pelagic ecosystem supported by high primary productivity and nutrient flux. Cambrian pelagic ecosystems seem to have been more modern than previously believed.

Concepts: Evolution, Animal, Cambrian explosion, Zooplankton, Plankton, Ordovician, Cambrian, Paleozoic


Hyoliths are abundant and globally distributed ‘shelly’ fossils that appear early in the Cambrian period and can be found throughout the 280 million year span of Palaeozoic strata. The ecological and evolutionary importance of this group has remained unresolved, largely because of their poorly constrained soft anatomy and idiosyncratic scleritome, which comprises an operculum, a conical shell and, in some taxa, a pair of lateral spines (helens). Since their first description over 175 years ago, hyoliths have most often been regarded as incertae sedis, related to molluscs or assigned to their own phylum. Here we examine over 1,500 specimens of the mid-Cambrian hyolith Haplophrentis from the Burgess Shale and Spence Shale Lagerstätten. We reconstruct Haplophrentis as a semi-sessile, epibenthic suspension feeder that could use its helens to elevate its tubular body above the sea floor. Exceptionally preserved soft tissues include an extendable, gullwing-shaped, tentacle-bearing organ surrounding a central mouth, which we interpret as a lophophore, and a U-shaped digestive tract ending in a dorsolateral anus. Together with opposing bilateral sclerites and a deep ventral visceral cavity, these features indicate an affinity with the lophophorates (brachiopods, phoronids and tommotiids), substantially increasing the morphological disparity of this prominent group.

Concepts: Mollusca, Paleontology, Bryozoa, Ordovician, Trilobite, Lophotrochozoa, Cambrian, Burgess Shale


While many skeletal biomineralized genera are described from Ediacaran (635-541 million years ago, Ma) strata, none have been suggested to have an affinity above the Porifera-Cnidaria metazoan grade. Here, we reinterpret the widespread terminal Ediacaran (approx. 550-541 Ma) sessile goblet-shaped Namacalathus as a triploblastic eumetazoan. Namacalathus has a stalked cup with radially symmetrical cross section, multiple lateral lumens and a central opening. We show that the skeleton of Namacalathus is composed of a calcareous foliated ultrastructure displaying regular concordant columnar inflections, with a possible inner organic-rich layer. These features point to an accretionary growth style of the skeleton and an affinity with the Lophotrochozoa, more specifically within the Lophophorata (Brachiopoda and Bryozoa). Additionally, we present evidence for asexual reproduction as expressed by regular budding in a bilateral pattern. The interpretation of Namacalathus as an Ediacaran total group lophophorate is consistent with an early radiation of the Lophophorata, as known early Cambrian representatives were sessile, mostly stalked forms, and in addition, the oldest known calcareous Brachiopoda (early Cambrian Obolellida) and Bryozoa (Ordovician Stenolaemata) possessed foliated ultrastructures.

Concepts: Reproduction, Asexual reproduction, Sexual reproduction, Sponge, Cambrian explosion, Bryozoa, Ordovician, Lophotrochozoa


Consistent trends towards decreasing body size in the aftermath of mass extinctions - Lilliput effects - imply a predictable response among unitary animals to these events. The occurrence of Lilliput effects has yet to be widely tested in colonial organisms, which are of particular interest as size change may potentially occur at the two hierarchical levels of the colony and the individual zooids. Bryozoans are particularly useful organisms in which to study colonial size response as they have well-defined zooids. Additionally, a number of analyses of present-day bryozoans have shown that zooid size reflects local environmental conditions, most notably seawater temperature and possibly also food supply. Following the hypothesised decline in primary productivity at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction, it is predicted that bryozoan zooid size should decline in the early Paleogene, resulting in a Lilliput effect. To test this prediction, zooid size was compared across the K-Pg boundary at the assemblage level and also within 4 surviving genera. Analysis of 59 bryozoan species from assemblages on either side of the K-Pg boundary showed no significant change in zooid length. Zooid size was also measured in 98 Maastrichtian colonies and 162 Danian colonies belonging to four congeneric species. Only one of these genera showed a significant size decrease across the K-Pg boundary, the other three maintaining constant zooidal lengths, widths and areas. Additionally, the sizes of 210 Maastrichtian colonies and 163 Danian colonies did not show consistent size decrease across the K-Pg boundary in these same species, although maximum colony size did decline in three out of four genera. Furthermore, this lack of consistent size change is uniform between two distinct biogeographical regions, Denmark and the southeastern USA.

Concepts: Biology, Species, Animal, Extinction, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Ordovician


Exceptionally preserved fossils provide crucial insights into extinct body plans and organismal evolution. Molluscs, one of the most disparate animal phyla, radiated rapidly during the early Cambrian period (approximately 535-520 million years ago (Ma)). The problematic fossil taxa Halkieria and Orthrozanclus (grouped in Sachitida) have been assigned variously to stem-group annelids, brachiopods, stem-group molluscs or stem-group aculiferans (Polyplacophora and Aplacophora), but their affinities have remained controversial owing to a lack of preserved diagnostic characters. Here we describe a new early sachitid, Calvapilosa kroegeri gen. et sp. nov. from the Fezouata biota of Morocco (Early Ordovician epoch, around 478 Ma). The new taxon is characterized by the presence of a single large anterior shell plate and polystichous radula bearing a median tooth and several lateral and uncinal teeth in more than 125 rows. Its flattened body is covered by hollow spinose sclerites, and a smooth, ventral girdle flanks an extensive mantle cavity. Phylogenetic analyses resolve C. kroegeri as a stem-group aculiferan together with other single-plated forms such as Maikhanella (Siphogonuchites) and Orthrozanclus; Halkieria is recovered closer to the aculiferan crown. These genera document the stepwise evolution of the aculiferan body plan from forms with a single, almost conchiferan-like shell through two-plated taxa such as Halkieria, to the eight-plated crown-group aculiferans. C. kroegeri therefore provides key evidence concerning the long debate about the crown molluscan affinities of sachitids. This new discovery strongly suggests that the possession of only a single calcareous shell plate and the presence of unmineralised sclerites are plesiomorphic (an ancestral trait) for the molluscan crown.

Concepts: Phylogenetics, Phylum, Mollusca, Fossil, Cambrian explosion, Ordovician, Cambrian, Halkieria