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More complex than thought: Earth’s earliest ecosystems

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Tribrachidium/Aleksey Nagovitsyn (

From University of Bristol:

Computer simulations have allowed scientists to work out how a puzzling 555-million-year-old organism with no known modern relatives fed, revealing that some of the first large, complex organisms on Earth formed ecosystems that were much more complex than previously thought.

So why do we go on “previously thinking” it was simple? Is it just us, or does anyone else get tired of hitting their heads against a brick wall?

Tribrachidium lived during a period of time called the Ediacaran, which ranged from 635 million to 541 million years ago. This period was characterised by a variety of large, complex organisms, most of which are difficult to link to any modern species. It was previously thought that these organisms formed simple ecosystems characterised by only a few feeding modes, but the new study suggests they were capable of more types of feeding than previously appreciated.

People used to say, hunger is the best sauce… No, but seriously,

Dr Simon Darroch, an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, said: “For many years, scientists have assumed that Earth’s oldest complex organisms, which lived over half a billion years ago, fed in only one or two different ways. Our study has shown this to be untrue, Tribrachidium and perhaps other species were capable of suspension feeding. This demonstrates that, contrary to our expectations, some of the first ecosystems were actually quite complex.”

If they are ecosystems, they are complex. If they are not coplex, they are not ecosystems, or else we have their specs wrong.

Co-author Dr Marc Laflamme, an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, added: “Tribrachidium doesn’t look like any modern species, and so it has been really hard to work out what it was like when it was alive. The application of cutting-edge techniques, such as CT scanning and computational fluid dynamics, allowed us to determine, for the first time, how this long-extinct organism fed.”More.

See also: Researchers ask, Was early animal evolution co-operative? The new thesis suggests that the typical Ediacaran animals created an environment around them that enabled the more mobile creatures to evolve.

and

Talk to the fossils: Let’s see what they say back

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4 Replies to “More complex than thought: Earth’s earliest ecosystems

  1. 1
    gpuccio says:

    News:

    Extremely interesting.

    I think that we never discuss enough the Ediacaran explosion. That was really the first explosion of metazoa on our planet, at least as far as fossils can let us understand.

    Ediacaran metazoa were complex and, IMO, specially fascinating. The simple fact that they were different from almost everything that exists today adds to their potential interest.

    In a sense, it’s like finding ancient signs of life on another planet, only it happens exactly here, on our old earth!

  2. 2
    turell says:

    They were no where near the complexity of the Cambrian organisms that followed, with no intermedate forms so far.

  3. 3
    bb says:

    The video boldly states “Nothing alive today has three-fold symmetry.” without a qualifier. I would put it “We don’t yet know of any living organism with three-fold symmetry.” I wonder if any exist today that we haven’t discovered yet. Perhaps on the ocean floor. With coelacanth in mind, with early claims that it was an extinct fish on its way to land, there may very well be.

  4. 4
    Kenneth Hughs says:

    Bb, how is three fold symmetry different than the radial symmetry that is very abundant on earth. Starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, etc.

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