The Cambrian explosion was caused by a lack of oxygen, not an abundance

Jun 07, 2018

Creatures from the black lagoon

DURING the Cambrian period, which began 541m years ago, animal life took a remarkable leap forward. The first creatures believed by most (though not all) palaeontologists to be multicellular animals appear in the previous geological period, the Ediacaran. But though they are abundant and reasonably diverse, Ediacaran creatures do not look ancestral to modern animals. That is in contradistinction to Cambrian fossils, among which are found representatives of all the main animal groups (annelids, arthropods, brachiopods, chordates, cnidarians, echinoderms, molluscs and so on) that are around today. And these groups appear in what is, in geological terms, an eyeblink.

Several explanations have been put forward to explain the Cambrian explosion of animal life. One of the most popular is that it was fuelled by a dramatic rise in oxygen levels, permitting large and active creatures to thrive. However, a study just published in...


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