(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have described a new Proterozoic organism, Auroralumina attenboroughii, which most likely was the ancestor of modern cnidarians.
The find was made on the territory of Charnwood Forest in England, where the history of studying the mysterious creatures of the Ediacaran period began more than 70 years ago.
The inhabitants of the seas of the Ediacaran , the last period of the Proterozoic era (635-539 million years ago), can be called the forerunners of life in its modern form.
These bizarre and mysterious creatures had a special type of symmetry , interacted differently with each other and were so strange that not all of them can be confidently attributed to animals, fungi or plants.
Only after the end of the Ediacaran did rapid evolution begin with the appearance of living types of animals and modern ecosystems – the so-called Cambrian explosion.
The history of the study of Ediacarans dates back to Roger Mason, a 15-year-old teenager from England, who traveled to Charnwood Forest with friends in 1957 and discovered an imprint of a wicker leaf-like charnia ( Charnia masoni ).
It was a very important discovery that made it possible to describe the first creature from that distant time.
More than 70 years have passed, and the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire (UK) continues to surprise paleontologists from the Ediacaran.
This time they managed to discover and describe a new species and genus of Proterozoic animals – Auroralumina attenboroughii , which in Latin means “Attenborough dawn light”.
Auroralamine lived in the Ediacaran seas 562-577 million years ago. It was a colonial polyp up to 20 centimeters in size with dichotomous branching, hiding in solid organic integuments of a quadrangular shape in cross section.
Apparently, only numerous thin tentacles stuck out. The authors suggest that the animal used them to catch phytoplankton, protists, and, probably, zooplankton that had just emerged from the surrounding water.
The tentacles of the auroralamine strongly resemble those found in modern cnidarians such as jellyfish and coral polyps.
Paleontologists suggest that it is to them that the new species should be attributed, or rather, to the crown group of the cnidarian type, that is, that part of their evolutionary tree that has living descendants.
Reconstruction of the evolution of cnidarians based on their genomes suggests very ancient roots. Probably, two large groups of these creatures – Medusozoa and Anthozoa coral polyps (auroralamina rather resembles them) – diverged even before the beginning of the Ediacaran in cryogeny.
It was then, according to geologists, that global glaciation occurred and the Earth turned into a “snowball planet” for a long time.
Previously, other supposed cnidarians were recovered from the Ediacaran deposits: Corumbella sp ., Wutubus sp. and Haootia sp.
They bear little resemblance to the familiar animals of this group, but in the case of auroralamine, everything is different.
“Before us is the first concrete evidence of an organism from the Precambrian, which resembles modern creatures.
This means that the “detonator” of the Cambrian explosion actually went off long before it started, ” Phil Wilby from the University of Leicester (UK), one of the authors of a new article in Nature Ecology & Evolution , figuratively sums up his work .
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