541–485.4 million years ago
|Mean atmospheric O|
2 content over period duration
|c. 12.5 vol %|
(63 % of modern level)
|Mean atmospheric CO|
2 content over period duration
|c. 4500 ppm |
(16 times pre-industrial level)
|Mean surface temperature over period duration||c. 21 °C|
(7 °C above modern level)
|Sea level (above present day)||Rising steadily from 30m to 90m|
The Cambrian Period ( /, -/ KAM-bree-ən, KAYM-) was the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, and of the Phanerozoic Eon. The Cambrian lasted 55.6 million years from the end of the preceding Ediacaran Period 541 million years ago (mya) to the beginning of the Ordovician Period 485.4 mya. Its subdivisions, and its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established (as “Cambrian series”) by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name of Wales, where Britain's Cambrian rocks are best exposed. The Cambrian is unique in its unusually high proportion of lagerstätte sedimentary deposits, sites of exceptional preservation where "soft" parts of organisms are preserved as well as their more resistant shells. As a result, our understanding of the Cambrian biology surpasses that of some later periods.
The Cambrian marked a profound change in life on Earth; prior to the Cambrian, the majority of living organisms on the whole were small, unicellular and simple; the Precambrian Charnia being exceptional. Complex, multicellular organisms gradually became more common in the millions of years immediately preceding the Cambrian, but it was not until this period that mineralized—hence readily fossilized—organisms became common.The rapid diversification of life forms in the Cambrian, known as the Cambrian explosion, produced the first representatives of all modern animal phyla. Phylogenetic analysis has supported the view that during the Cambrian radiation, metazoa (animals) evolved monophyletically from a single common ancestor: flagellated colonial protists similar to modern choanoflagellates.
Although diverse life forms prospered in the oceans, the land is thought to have been comparatively barren—with nothing more complex than a microbial soil crustand a few molluscs that emerged to browse on the microbial biofilm. Most of the continents were probably dry and rocky due to a lack of vegetation. Shallow seas flanked the margins of several continents created during the breakup of the supercontinent Pannotia. The seas were relatively warm, and polar ice was absent for much of the period.
The base of the Cambrian lies atop a complex assemblage of trace fossils known as the Treptichnus pedum assemblage.The use of Treptichnus pedum, a reference ichnofossil to mark the lower boundary of the Cambrian, is difficult since the occurrence of very similar trace fossils belonging to the Treptichnids group are found well below the T. pedum in Namibia, Spain and Newfoundland, and possibly in the western USA. The stratigraphic range of T. pedum overlaps the range of the Ediacaran fossils in Namibia, and probably in Spain.
The Cambrian Period followed the Ediacaran Period and was followed by the Ordovician Period. The Cambrian is divided into four epochs (series) and ten ages (stages). Currently only three series and six stages are named and have a GSSP (an internationally agreed-upon stratigraphic reference point).
Because the international stratigraphic subdivision is not yet complete, many local subdivisions are still widely used. In some of these subdivisions the Cambrian is divided into three series (epochs) with locally differing names – the Early Cambrian (Caerfai or Waucoban, to mya), Middle Cambrian (St Davids or Albertan, to mya) and Furongian ( to mya; also known as Late Cambrian, Merioneth or Croixan). Rocks of these epochs are referred to as belonging to the Lower, Middle, or Upper Cambrian.
Trilobite zones allow biostratigraphic correlation in the Cambrian.
Each of the local series is divided into several stages. The Cambrian is divided into several regional faunal stages of which the Russian-Kazakhian system is most used in international parlance:
|Furongian||Ibexian (part)||Ayusokkanian||Datsonian||Dolgellian (Trempealeauan, Fengshanian)|
|Sunwaptan||Sakian||Iverian||Ffestiniogian (Franconian, Changshanian)|
|Cambrian Series 2||Longwangmioan||Toyonian||Lenian|
*Most Russian paleontologists define the lower boundary of the Cambrian at the base of the Tommotian Stage, characterized by diversification and global distribution of organisms with mineral skeletons and the appearance of the first Archaeocyath bioherms.
The International Commission on Stratigraphy list the Cambrian period as beginning atand ending at .
The lower boundary of the Cambrian was originally held to represent the first appearance of complex life, represented by trilobites. The recognition of small shelly fossils before the first trilobites, and Ediacara biota substantially earlier, led to calls for a more precisely defined base to the Cambrian period.
Despite the long recognition of its distinction from younger Ordovician rocks and older Precambrian rocks, it was not until 1994 that the Cambrian system/period was internationally ratified. After decades of careful consideration, a continuous sedimentary sequence at Fortune Head, Newfoundland was settled upon as a formal base of the Cambrian period, which was to be correlated worldwide by the earliest appearance of Treptichnus pedum .Discovery of this fossil a few metres below the GSSP led to the refinement of this statement, and it is the T. pedum ichnofossil assemblage that is now formally used to correlate the base of the Cambrian.
This formal designation allowed radiometric dates to be obtained from samples across the globe that corresponded to the base of the Cambrian. Early dates ofquickly gained favour, though the methods used to obtain this number are now considered to be unsuitable and inaccurate. A more precise date using modern radiometric dating yield a date of . The ash horizon in Oman from which this date was recovered corresponds to a marked fall in the abundance of carbon-13 that correlates to equivalent excursions elsewhere in the world, and to the disappearance of distinctive Ediacaran fossils (Namacalathus, Cloudina). Nevertheless, there are arguments that the dated horizon in Oman does not correspond to the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary, but represents a facies change from marine to evaporite-dominated strata — which would mean that dates from other sections, ranging from 544 or 542 Ma, are more suitable.
Plate reconstructions suggest a global supercontinent, Pannotia, was in the process of breaking up early in the period,with Laurentia (North America), Baltica, and Siberia having separated from the main supercontinent of Gondwana to form isolated land masses. Most continental land was clustered in the Southern Hemisphere at this time, but was drifting north. Large, high-velocity rotational movement of Gondwana appears to have occurred in the Early Cambrian.
With a lack of sea ice – the great glaciers of the Marinoan Snowball Earth were long melted – the sea level was high, which led to large areas of the continents being flooded in warm, shallow seas ideal for sea life. The sea levels fluctuated somewhat, suggesting there were 'ice ages', associated with pulses of expansion and contraction of a south polar ice cap.
In Baltoscandia a Lower Cambrian transgression transformed large swathes of the Sub-Cambrian peneplain into an epicontinental sea.
The Earth was generally cold during the early Cambrian, probably due to the ancient continent of Gondwana covering the South Pole and cutting off polar ocean currents. However, average temperatures were 7 degrees Celsius higher than today. There were likely polar ice caps and a series of glaciations, as the planet was still recovering from an earlier Snowball Earth. It became warmer towards the end of the period; the glaciers receded and eventually disappeared, and sea levels rose dramatically. This trend would continue into the Ordovician period.
Although there were a variety of macroscopic marine plants[ which? ][ citation needed ] no land plant (embryophyte) fossils are known from the Cambrian. However, biofilms and microbial mats were well developed on Cambrian tidal flats and beaches 500 mya., and microbes forming microbial Earth ecosystems, comparable with modern soil crust of desert regions, contributing to soil formation.
Most animal life during the Cambrian was aquatic. Trilobites were once assumed to be the dominant life form at that time,but this has proven to be incorrect. Arthropods were by far the most dominant animals in the ocean, but trilobites were only a minor part of the total arthropod diversity. What made them so apparently abundant was their heavy armor reinforced by calcium carbonate (CaCO3), which fossilized far more easily than the fragile chitinous exoskeletons of other arthropods, leaving numerous preserved remains.
The period marked a steep change in the diversity and composition of Earth's biosphere. The Ediacaran biota suffered a mass extinction at the start of the Cambrian Period, which corresponded to an increase in the abundance and complexity of burrowing behaviour. This behaviour had a profound and irreversible effect on the substrate which transformed the seabed ecosystems. Before the Cambrian, the sea floor was covered by microbial mats. By the end of the Cambrian, burrowing animals had destroyed the mats in many areas through bioturbation, and gradually turned the seabeds into what they are today.[ clarification needed ] As a consequence, many of those organisms that were dependent on the mats became extinct, while the other species adapted to the changed environment that now offered new ecological niches. Around the same time there was a seemingly rapid appearance of representatives of all the mineralized phyla except the Bryozoa, which appeared in the Lower Ordovician. However, many of those phyla were represented only by stem-group forms; and since mineralized phyla generally have a benthic origin, they may not be a good proxy for (more abundant) non-mineralized phyla.
While the early Cambrian showed such diversification that it has been named the Cambrian Explosion, this changed later in the period, when there occurred a sharp drop in biodiversity. About 515 million years ago, the number of species going extinct exceeded the number of new species appearing. Five million years later, the number of genera had dropped from an earlier peak of about 600 to just 450. Also, the speciation rate in many groups was reduced to between a fifth and a third of previous levels. 500 million years ago, oxygen levels fell dramatically in the oceans, leading to hypoxia, while the level of poisonous hydrogen sulfide simultaneously increased, causing another extinction. The later half of Cambrian was surprisingly barren and showed evidence of several rapid extinction events; the stromatolites which had been replaced by reef building sponges known as Archaeocyatha, returned once more as the archaeocyathids became extinct. This declining trend did not change until the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.
Some Cambrian organisms ventured onto land, producing the trace fossils Protichnites and Climactichnites . Fossil evidence suggests that euthycarcinoids, an extinct group of arthropods, produced at least some of the Protichnites.Fossils of the track-maker of Climactichnites have not been found; however, fossil trackways and resting traces suggest a large, slug-like mollusc.
In contrast to later periods, the Cambrian fauna was somewhat restricted; free-floating organisms were rare, with the majority living on or close to the sea floor;and mineralizing animals were rarer than in future periods, in part due to the unfavourable ocean chemistry.
Many modes of preservation are unique to the Cambrian, and some preserve soft body parts, resulting in an abundance of Lagerstätten .
The United States Federal Geographic Data Committee uses a "barred capital C" ⟨Ꞓ⟩ character to represent the Cambrian Period. The Unicode character is U+A792ꞒLATIN CAPITAL LETTER C WITH BAR.
|Part of a series on|
|The Cambrian explosion|
The Ediacaran Period, spans 94 million years from the end of the Cryogenian Period 635 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Cambrian Period 541 Mya. It marks the end of the Proterozoic Eon, and the beginning of the Phanerozoic Eon. It is named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia.
The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six periods of the Paleozoic Era. The Ordovician spans 41.6 million years from the end of the Cambrian Period 485.4 million years ago (Mya) to the start of the Silurian Period 443.8 Mya.
The Silurian is a geologic period and system spanning 24.6 million years from the end of the Ordovician Period, at 443.8 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Devonian Period, 419.2 Mya. The Silurian is the shortest period of the Paleozoic Era. As with other geologic periods, the rock beds that define the period's start and end are well identified, but the exact dates are uncertain by a few million years. The base of the Silurian is set at a series of major Ordovician–Silurian extinction events when up to 60% of marine genera were wiped out.
Trilobites are a group of extinct marine arachnomorph arthropods that form the class Trilobita. Trilobites form one of the earliest-known groups of arthropods. The first appearance of trilobites in the fossil record defines the base of the Atdabanian stage of the Early Cambrian period, and they flourished throughout the lower Paleozoic era before beginning a drawn-out decline to extinction when, during the Devonian, all trilobite orders except the Proetids died out. Trilobites disappeared in the mass extinction at the end of the Permian about 252 million years ago. The trilobites were among the most successful of all early animals, existing in oceans for almost 300 million years.
An exoskeleton is the external skeleton that supports and protects an animal's body, in contrast to the internal skeleton (endoskeleton) of, for example, a human. In usage, some of the larger kinds of exoskeletons are known as "shells". Examples of animals with exoskeletons include insects such as grasshoppers and cockroaches, and crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters, as well as the shells of certain sponges and the various groups of shelled molluscs, including those of snails, clams, tusk shells, chitons and nautilus. Some animals, such as the tortoise, have both an endoskeleton and an exoskeleton.
A trace fossil, also ichnofossil, is a fossil record of biological activity but not the preserved remains of the plant or animal itself. Trace fossils contrast with body fossils, which are the fossilized remains of parts of organisms' bodies, usually altered by later chemical activity or mineralization. Ichnology is the study of such trace fossils and is the work of ichnologists.
Protichnites is an ichnogenus of trace fossil consisting of the imprints made by the walking activity of certain arthropods. It consists of two rows of tracks and a medial furrow between the two rows. This furrow, which may be broken, set at an angle, and of varying width and depth, is thought to be the result of the tail region contacting the substrate.
Treptichnus pedum is the preserved burrow of an animal. As such, it is regarded as the earliest widespread complex trace fossil. Its earliest appearance, around 542 mya, which was contemporaneous with the last of the Ediacaran biota, is used to help define the dividing line, considered geologically at 541 mya, between the Ediacaran and Cambrian Periods.
Cephalonega stepanovi is a fossil organism from Ediacaran deposites of the Arkhangelsk Region, Russia. It was described by Mikhail A. Fedonkin in 1976
Parvancorina is a genus of shield-shaped bilaterally symmetrical fossil animal that lived in the late Ediacaran seafloor. It has some superficial similarities with the Cambrian trilobite-like arthropods.
Climactichnites is an enigmatic, Cambrian fossil formed on or within sandy tidal flats around. It has been interpreted in many different ways in the past, but is now thought to be a trace fossil of a slug-like organism that moved by crawling to on-shore surfaces, or near-shore, or burrowing into the sediment.
The Ediacaranbiota is a taxonomic period classification that consists of all life forms that were present on Earth during the Ediacaran Period. These were composed of enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile, organisms. Trace fossils of these organisms have been found worldwide, and represent the earliest known complex multicellular organisms.
Euthycarcinoidea was an enigmatic group of possibly amphibious arthropods that ranged from Cambrian to Triassic times. Fossils are known from Europe, North America, Argentina and Australia.
The "Cambrian substrate revolution" or "Agronomic revolution", evidenced in trace fossils, is the diversification of animal burrowing during the early Cambrian period.
Evidence suggesting that a mass extinction occurred at the end of the Ediacaran period,, includes:
The small shelly fauna, small shelly fossils (SSF), or early skeletal fossils (ESF) are mineralized fossils, many only a few millimetres long, with a nearly continuous record from the latest stages of the Ediacaran to the end of the Early Cambrian Period. They are very diverse, and there is no formal definition of "small shelly fauna" or "small shelly fossils". Almost all are from earlier rocks than more familiar fossils such as trilobites. Since most SSFs were preserved by being covered quickly with phosphate and this method of preservation is mainly limited to the Late Ediacaran and Early Cambrian periods, the animals that made them may actually have arisen earlier and persisted after this time span.
The Cambrian explosion or Cambrian radiation was an event approximatelyin the Cambrian period when most major animal phyla appeared in the fossil record. It lasted for about 13 – 25 million years and resulted in the divergence of most modern metazoan phyla. The event was accompanied by major diversification of other organisms.
The Stratigraphy of the Cambrian period currently has several schemes used for ordering geologic formations from the period. The International Commission on Stratigraphy−ICS scheme has set a stratotype section for the base of the Cambrian, dated quite accurately to 541 ± 1.0 million years ago. Russian and Chinese scientists have developed a different scheme.
Blackberry Hill is a Konservat-Lagerstätte of Cambrian age located within the Elk Mound Group in Marathon County, Wisconsin. It is found in a series of quarries and outcrops that are notable for their large concentration of exceptionally preserved trace fossils in Cambrian tidal flats. One quarry in particular also has the distinction of preserving some of the first land animals. These are preserved as three-dimensional casts, which is unusual for Cambrian animals that are only lightly biomineralized. Additionally, Blackberry Hill is the first occurrence recognized to include Cambrian mass strandings of scyphozoans (jellyfish).
The Nama Group is a 125,000 square kilometres (48,000 sq mi) megaregional Vendian to Cambrian group of stratigraphic sequences deposited in the Nama foreland basin in central and southern Namibia. The Nama Basin is a peripheral foreland basin, and the Nama Group was deposited in two early basins, the Zaris and Witputs, to the north, while the South African Vanrhynsdorp Group was deposited in the southern third. The Nama Group is made of fluvial and shallow-water marine sediments, both siliciclastic and carbonate. La Tinta Group in Argentina is considered equivalent to Nama Group.
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