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Fossil evidence unveils an early Cambrian origin for Bryozoa

posted on 2022-06-10, 02:46 authored by Zhiliang Zhang, Zhifei Zhang, Junye Ma, Paul Taylor, Luke Strotz, Sarah Jacquet, Christian Skovsted, Feiyang Chen, Jian Han, Glenn Brock
Bryozoans (ectoprocts or moss animals) are aquatic, dominantly sessile, filter-feeding lophophorates that construct an organic or calcareous modular colonial (clonal) exoskeleton. The presence of six major orders of bryozoans with advanced polymorphisms in lower Ordovician rocks strongly suggests a Cambrian origin for the largest and most diverse lophophorate phylum. However, a lack of convincing bryozoan fossils from the Cambrian has hampered resolution of the true origins and character assembly of earliest members of the group. Here we interpret the millimetric, erect, bilaminate, secondarily phosphatised fossil Protomelission gatehousei from the early Cambrian of Australia and South China as a potential stem-group bryozoan. The monomorphic zooid capsules, modular construction, organic composition and simple linear budding growth geometry represent a mixture of organic Gymnolaemata and biomineralised Stenolaemata character traits, with phylogenetic analyses identifying P. gatehousei as a stem-group bryozoan. This aligns the origin of phylum Bryozoa with all other skeletonised phyla in Cambrian Age 3, pushing back its first occurrence by approximately 35 million years. This reconciles the fossil record with molecular clock estimations of an early Cambrian origination and subsequent Ordovician radiation of Bryozoa following the acquisition of a carbonate skeleton.


National Natural Science Foundation of China : 41890844

Ministry of Education of China : D17013

Macquarie University : 2019 MQRF

Chinese Academy of Sciences* : XDB26000000

National Natural Science Foundation of China : 41425008

National Natural Science Foundation of China : 41621003

National Natural Science Foundation of China : 41720104002

1000 Talent Shaanxi Province Fellowship*

Thousand Talents Program


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