Ediacaran biota

Life in the Ediacaran Period, as imagined by researchers in 1980.

The Ediacaran (/ˌdiˈækərən/; formerly Vendian) biota is a taxonomic period classification that consists of all life forms that were present on Earth during the Ediacaran Period (c. 635–538.8 Mya). These were enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile, organisms.[1][2] Trace fossils of these organisms have been found worldwide, and represent the earliest known complex multicellular organisms. The term "Ediacara biota" has received criticism from some scientists due to its alleged inconsistency, arbitrary exclusion of certain fossils, and inability to be precisely defined.[3]

The Ediacaran biota may have undergone evolutionary radiation in a proposed event called the Avalon explosion, 575 million years ago.[4][5] This was after the Earth had thawed from the Cryogenian period's extensive glaciation. This biota largely disappeared with the rapid increase in biodiversity known as the Cambrian explosion. Most of the currently existing body plans of animals first appeared in the fossil record of the Cambrian rather than the Ediacaran. For macroorganisms, the Cambrian biota appears to have almost completely replaced the organisms that dominated the Ediacaran fossil record, although relationships are still a matter of debate.

The organisms of the Ediacaran Period first appeared around 600 million years ago and flourished until the cusp of the Cambrian 538.8 million years ago, when the characteristic communities of fossils vanished. A diverse Ediacaran community was discovered in 1995 in Sonora, Mexico, and is approximately 555 million years in age, roughly coeval with Ediacaran fossils of the Ediacara Hills in South Australia and the White Sea on the coast of Russia.[6][7][8] While rare fossils that may represent survivors have been found as late as the Middle Cambrian (510–500 Mya), the earlier fossil communities disappear from the record at the end of the Ediacaran leaving only curious fragments of once-thriving ecosystems.[9] Multiple hypotheses exist to explain the disappearance of this biota, including preservation bias, a changing environment, the advent of predators and competition from other life-forms. A sampling, reported in 2018, of late Ediacaran strata across Baltica (< 560 Mya) suggests the flourishing of the organisms coincided with conditions of low overall productivity with a very high percentage produced by bacteria, which may have led to high concentrations of dissolved organic material in the oceans.[10]

Determining where Ediacaran organisms fit in the tree of life has proven challenging; it is not even established that most of them were animals, with suggestions that they were lichens (fungus-alga symbionts), algae, protists known as foraminifera, fungi or microbial colonies, or hypothetical intermediates between plants and animals.[11] The morphology and habit of some taxa (e.g. Funisia dorothea) suggest relationships to Porifera or Cnidaria (e.g. Auroralumina).[12][13][14] Kimberella may show a similarity to molluscs, and other organisms have been thought to possess bilateral symmetry, although this is controversial. Most macroscopic fossils are morphologically distinct from later life-forms: they resemble discs, tubes, mud-filled bags or quilted mattresses. Due to the difficulty of deducing evolutionary relationships among these organisms, some palaeontologists have suggested that these represent completely extinct lineages that do not resemble any living organism. Palaeontologist Adolf Seilacher proposed a separate subkingdom level category Vendozoa (now renamed Vendobionta)[15] in the Linnaean hierarchy for the Ediacaran biota. If these enigmatic organisms left no descendants, their strange forms might be seen as a "failed experiment" in multicellular life, with later multicellular life evolving independently from unrelated single-celled organisms.[16] A 2018 study confirmed that one of the period's most-prominent and iconic fossils, Dickinsonia, included cholesterol,[17] suggesting affinities to animals, fungi, or red algae.[18]

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  10. ^ Bekker, Andrey; Sokur, Tetyana; Shumlyanskyy, Leonid; Christopher K. Junium; Podkovyrov, Victor; Kuznetsov, Anton; et al. (4 May 2018). "Ediacara biota flourished in oligotrophic and bacterially dominated marine environments across Baltica". Nature Communications. 9 (1): 1807. Bibcode:2018NatCo...9.1807P. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-04195-8. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 5935690. PMID 29728614.
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