Thaumaptilon walcotti and the early evolution of the Cnidaria
Jonathan B Antcliffe1
1University of Oxford
The Cambrian Burgess Shale from British Columbia, Canada has provided generations of palaeontologists with new and wonderful puzzles concerning the early evolution of animal life. Thaumaptilon is one of the most intriguing of these as it links to two major problems in early animal evolution. First is the possible connection between enigmatic Ediacaran age (c. 565Ma) taxa such as Charnia and their possible successors such as Thaumaptilon from the Cambrian. It has been thought that if we could understand the relationships of Thaumaptilon to modern animals, then by inference we could understand the relationship of the critically important Ediacaran biota. Second is that Thaumaptilon has been interpreted as an early soft bodied cnidarian. The early evolution of the Cnidaria is poorly understood as Cambrian cnidarians are rare and often poorly preserved. This is particularly problematic as the bilateria appear in the fossil record at the same time, if not even before, the earliest reliable cnidarian fossils. Here new ontogenetic, anatomic, and decay data are presented that aims to resolve these major questions with implications for the earliest evolution of the Cnidaria and the battle between convergent and contingent patterns of evolution in the Cambrian Explosion.
A presentation abstract from the Palaeontological Association 58th Annual Meeting.