Chapter

The earliest fossil record of the animals and its significance

Graham E. Budd

in Animal Evolution

Published in print August 2009 | ISBN: 9780199549429
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191721601 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199549429.003.0001
 The earliest fossil record of the animals and its significance

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The fossil record of the earliest animals has been enlivened in recent years by a series of spectacular discoveries, including embryos, from the Ediacaran to the Cambrian, but many issues, not least of dating and interpretation, remain controversial. In particular, aspects of taphonomy of the earliest fossils require careful consideration before pronouncements about their affinities. Nevertheless, a reasonable case can be now made for the extension of the fossil record of at least basal animals (sponges and perhaps cnidarians) to a period of time significantly before the beginning of the Cambrian. The Cambrian explosion itself still seems to represent the arrival of the bilaterians, and many new fossils in recent years have added significant data on the origin of the three major bilaterian clades. Why animals appear so late in the fossil record is still unclear, but the recent trend to embrace rising oxygen levels as being the proximate cause remains unproven and may even involve a degree of circularity.

Keywords: Cambrian; Ediacaran; Snowball Earth; Metazoa; molecular clocks; oxygen

Chapter.  7750 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Evolutionary Biology

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