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An Examination of Life History and Behavioral Evolution Across the Ediacaran–Cambrian Transition

  • James D. Schiffbauer (a1) and Shuhai Xiao (a2)


With the 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin posed contention against his synthesis on the history of life. His dilemma specifically regarded that the geologically sudden appearance of complex shelly invertebrates at the Cambrian Explosion followed an incomprehensible absence of a long-standing gradual transition to such forms. Indeed, as quoted from Chapter 10 of the sixth edition, “To the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer… the difficulty of assigning any good reason for the absence of vast piles of strata rich in fossils beneath the Cambrian system is very great… The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained” (p. 286–288). In the 155 years since this assertion, paleontologists focusing on the strata of the Ediacaran–Cambrian transition have uncovered a rich evolutionary history prior to the radiation of animals, but our resulting discoveries have neither been without debate nor unraveled the intricacies suggested by Darwin's dilemma. While we are continuing to learn from both geological and paleontological records, the organisms, their expanding ecosystem intricacy, and the increasing complexity of their behaviors during the Ediacaran and Cambrian periods are yet not well understood. With rapidly growing data and ideas, this transition in evolutionary history has become one of the intellectually richest periods in our record of life on Earth.



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Broce, J., Schiffbauer, J. D., Sen Sharma, K., Wang, G., and Xiao, S. 2014. Possible animal embryos from the lower Cambrian (Stage 3) Shuijingtuo Formation, Hubei Province, South China. Journal of Paleontology, 88:385394.
Carbone, C. and Narbonne, G. M. 2014. When life got smart: The evolution of behavioral complexity through the Ediacaran and early Cambrian of northwestern Canada. Journal of Paleontology, 88:309330.
Gehling, J.G., Runnegar, B. N., and Droser, M. L. 2014. Scratch traces of large Ediacaran bilaterian animals. Journal of Paleontology, 88:284298.
Grazhdankin, D. 2014. Patterns of evolution of the Ediacaran soft-bodied biota. Journal of Paleontology, 88:269283.
Joel, L.V., Droser, M. L., and Gehling, J. G. 2014. A new enigmatic, tubular organism from the Ediacara Member, Rawnsley Quartzite, South Australia. Journal of Paleontology, 88:253262.
Li, G., Zhang, Z., Hua, H., and Yang, H. 2014. Occurrence of the enigmatic bivalved fossil Apistoconcha in the lower Cambrian of southeast Shaanxi, North China Platform. Journal of Paleontology, 88:359366.
LoDuca, S. T. and Kramer, A. 2014. Graptolites from the Wheeler and Marjum formations (Cambrian, Series 3) of Utah. Journal of Paleontology, 88:403410.
Ma, X., Aldridge, R.J., Siveter, David J., Siveter, Derek J., Hou, X., and Edgecombe, G. D. 2014. A new exceptionally preserved Cambrian priapulid from the Chengjiang Lagerstätte. Journal of Paleontology, 88:371384.
Macdonald, F. A., Pruss, S. B., and Strauss, J. V. 2014. Trace fossils with spreiten from the late Ediacaran Nama Group, Namibia: Complex feeding patterns five million years before the Precambrian–Cambrian boundary. Journal of Paleontology, 88:299308.
Meyer, M., Elliott, D., Schiffbauer, J. D., Hall, M., Hoffman, K. H., Schneider, G., Vickers-Rich, P., and Xiao, S. 2014. Taphonomy of the Ediacaran fossil Pteridinium simplex preserved three-dimensionally in mass flow deposits, Nama Group, Namibia. Journal of Paleontology, 88:240252.
Mochizuki, T., Oji, T., Zhao, Y., Peng, J., Yang, X., and Gonchigdorj, S. 2014. Diachronous increase in early Cambrian ichnofossil size and benthic faunal activity in different climatic regions. Journal of Paleontology, 88:331338.
Moczydłowska, M., Westall, F., and Foucher, F. 2014. Microstructure and biogeochemistry of the organically preserved Ediacaran metazoan Sabellidites . Journal of Paleontology, 88:224239.
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Rowland, S. M. and Rodriguez, M. G. 2014. A multicellular alga with exceptional preservation from the Ediacaran of Nevada. Journal of Paleontology, 88:263268.
Yang, X., Zhao, Y., Wu, W., Sun, Z., Zheng, H., and Zhu, Y. 2014. Affinities and taphonomy of a Cambrian discoid from Guizhou, South China. Journal of Paleontology, 88:339347.
Zhao, F., Hu, S., Zeng, H., and Zhu, M. 2014. A new helmetiid arthropod from the early Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte, southwest China. Journal of Paleontology, 88:367370.

An Examination of Life History and Behavioral Evolution Across the Ediacaran–Cambrian Transition

  • James D. Schiffbauer (a1) and Shuhai Xiao (a2)


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