Burgess Shale Faunas and the Cambrian Explosion

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Science  20 Oct 1989:
Vol. 246, Issue 4928, pp. 339-346
DOI: 10.1126/science.246.4928.339


Soft-bodied marine faunas from the Lower and Middle Cambrian, exemplified by the Burgess Shale of British Columbia, are a key component in understanding the major adaptive radiations at the beginning of the Phanerozoic ("Cambrian explosion"). These faunas have a widespread distribution, and many taxa have pronounced longevity. Among the components appear to be survivors of the preceding Ediacaran assemblages and a suite of bizarre forms that give unexpected insights into morphological diversification. Microevolutionary processes, however, seem adequate to account for this radiation, and the macroevolutionary patterns that set the seal on Phanerozoic life are contingent on random extinctions. They weeded out the morphological spectrum and permitted rediversification among surviving clades. Although the predictability of which clades will play in successive acts of the Phanerozoic theater is low, at least the outlines of the underlying ecological plot are already clear from the opening of the drama.

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