SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Ordovician

189

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

83

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

67

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

62

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

44

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

42

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

34

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

24

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

17

Evolutionary relationships among members of the Lophophorata remain unclear. Traditionally, the Lophophorata included three phyla: Brachiopoda, Bryozoa or Ectoprocta, and Phoronida. All species in these phyla have a lophophore, which is regarded as a homologous structure of the lophophorates. Because the organization of the nervous system has been traditionally used to establish relationships among groups of animals, information on the organization of the nervous system in the lophophore of phoronids, brachiopods, and bryozoans may help clarify relationships among the lophophorates. In the current study, the innervation of the lophophore of the inarticulate brachiopod Lingula anatina is investigated by modern methods. The lophophore of L. anatina contains three brachial nerves: the main, accessory, and lower brachial nerves. The main brachial nerve is located at the base of the dorsal side of the brachial fold and gives rise to the cross neurite bundles, which pass through the connective tissue and connect the main and accessory brachial nerves. Nerves emanating from the accessory brachial nerve account for most of the tentacle innervation and comprise the frontal, latero-frontal, and latero-abfrontal neurite bundles. The lower brachial nerve gives rise to the abfrontal neurite bundles of the outer tentacles. Comparative analysis revealed the presence of many similar features in the organization of the lophophore nervous system in phoronids, brachiopods, and bryozoans. The main brachial nerve of L. anatina is similar to the dorsal ganglion of phoronids and the cerebral ganglion of bryozoans. The accessory brachial nerve of L. anatina is similar to the minor nerve ring of phoronids and the circumoral nerve ring of bryozoans. All lophophorates have intertentacular neurite bundles, which innervate adjacent tentacles. The presence of similar nerve elements in the lophophore of phoronids, brachiopods, and bryozoans supports the homology of the lophophore and the monophyly of the lophophorates.

Concepts: Nervous system, Muscle, Axon, Nerve, Bryozoa, Ordovician, Brachiopod, Lophophore

17

The Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE) was the most rapid and sustained increase in marine Phanerozoic biodiversity. What generated this biotic response across Palaeozoic seascapes is a matter of debate; several intrinsic and extrinsic drivers have been suggested. One is Ordovician climate, which in recent years has undergone a paradigm shift from a text-book example of an extended greenhouse to an interval with transient cooling intervals - at least during the Late Ordovician. Here, we show the first unambiguous evidence for a sudden Mid Ordovician icehouse, comparable in magnitude to the Quaternary glaciations. We further demonstrate the initiation of this icehouse to coincide with the onset of the GOBE. This finding is based on both abiotic and biotic proxies obtained from the most comprehensive geochemical and palaeobiological dataset yet collected through this interval. We argue that the icehouse conditions increased latitudinal and bathymetrical temperature and oxygen gradients initiating an Early Palaeozoic Great Ocean Conveyor Belt. This fuelled the GOBE, as upwelling zones created new ecospace for the primary producers. A subsequent rise in δ(13)C ratios known as the Middle Darriwilian Isotopic Carbon Excursion (MDICE) may reflect a global response to increased bioproductivity encouraged by the onset of the GOBE.

Concepts: Climate, Physical oceanography, Climate change, Initiation, Thermohaline circulation, Ordovician, Paleozoic, Isotope geochemistry