Cambrian

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Cambrian Period
541–485.4 million years ago
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O
S
D
C
P
T
J
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Pg
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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 durationc. 21 °C
(7 °C above modern level)
Sea level (above present day)Rising steadily from 30m to 90m [1]
Key events in the Cambrian
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Orsten Fauna
Archaeocyatha extinction
Chengjiang biota
First Trilobites
SSF diversification, first brachiopods & archaeocyatha
Treptichnus pedum trace
Large negative peak δ 13Ccarb excursion
First Cloudina & Namacalathus mineral tubular fossils
Stratigraphic scale of the ICS subdivisions and Precambrian/Cambrian boundary.

The Cambrian Period ( /ˈkæmbriən/ or /ˈkmbriən/ ) was the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, and of the Phanerozoic Eon. [2] 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. [3] Its subdivisions, and its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established (as “Cambrian series”) by Adam Sedgwick, [2] who named it after Cambria, the Latin name of Wales, where Britain's Cambrian rocks are best exposed. [4] [5] [6] 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. [7]

A geological period is one of the several subdivisions of geologic time enabling cross-referencing of rocks and geologic events from place to place.

The PaleozoicEra is the earliest of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic Eon. It is the longest of the Phanerozoic eras, lasting from 541 to 251.902 million years ago, and is subdivided into six geologic periods : the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian. The Paleozoic comes after the Neoproterozoic Era of the Proterozoic Eon and is followed by the Mesozoic Era.

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.

Contents

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. [8] 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.

Life Characteristic that distinguishes physical entities having biological processes

Life is a characteristic that distinguishes physical entities that have biological processes, such as signaling and self-sustaining processes, from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased, or because they never had such functions and are classified as inanimate. Various forms of life exist, such as plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria. The criteria can at times be ambiguous and may or may not define viruses, viroids, or potential synthetic life as "living". Biology is the science concerned with the study of life.

Unicellular organism Organism that consists of only one cell

A unicellular organism, also known as a single-celled organism, is an organism that consists of only one cell, unlike a multicellular organism that consists of more than one cell. Unicellular organisms fall into two general categories: prokaryotic organisms and eukaryotic organisms. Prokaryotes include bacteria and archaea. Many eukaryotes are multicellular, but the group includes the protozoa, unicellular algae, and unicellular fungi. Unicellular organisms are thought to be the oldest form of life, with early protocells possibly emerging 3.8–4 billion years ago.

The Precambrian is the earliest part of Earth's history, set before the current Phanerozoic Eon. The Precambrian is so named because it preceded the Cambrian, the first period of the Phanerozoic eon, which is named after Cambria, the Latinised name for Wales, where rocks from this age were first studied. The Precambrian accounts for 88% of the Earth's geologic time.

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 crust [9] and a few molluscs that emerged to browse on the microbial biofilm. [10] 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.

Continent Very large landmass identified by convention

A continent is one of several very large landmasses of the world. Generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly regarded as continents. Ordered from largest in area to smallest, they are: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.

Supercontinent Landmass comprising more than one continental core, or craton

In geology, a supercontinent is the assembly of most or all of Earth's continental blocks or cratons to form a single large landmass. However, many earth scientists use a different definition: "a clustering of nearly all continents", which leaves room for interpretation and is easier to apply to Precambrian times.

Pannotia Hypothesized Neoproterozoic supercontinent from the end of the Precambrian

Pannotia, also known as Vendian supercontinent, Greater Gondwana, and the Pan-African supercontinent, was a relatively short-lived Neoproterozoic supercontinent that formed at the end of the Precambrian during the Pan-African orogeny and broke apart 560 Ma with the opening of the Iapetus Ocean. Pannotia formed when Laurentia was located adjacent to the two major South American cratons, Amazonia and Río de la Plata. The opening of the Iapetus Ocean separated Laurentia from Baltica, Amazonia, and Río de la Plata.

Stratigraphy

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. The base of the Cambrian lies atop a complex assemblage of trace fossils known as the Treptichnus pedum assemblage. [11] 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. [12] [13]

The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six periods of the Paleozoic Era. The Ordovician spans 41.2 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.

Trace fossil Geological record of biological activity

A trace fossil, also ichnofossil, is a geological record of biological activity. Ichnology is the study of such traces, and is the work of ichnologists. Trace fossils may consist of impressions made on or in the substrate by an organism: for example, burrows, borings (bioerosion), urolites, footprints and feeding marks, and root cavities. The term in its broadest sense also includes the remains of other organic material produced by an organism — for example coprolites or chemical markers — or sedimentological structures produced by biological means - for example, stromatolites. Trace fossils contrast with body fossils, which are the fossilized remains of parts of organisms' bodies, usually altered by later chemical activity or mineralization.

<i>Treptichnus pedum</i> ichnotaxon

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.

Subdivisions

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).

In geochronology, an epoch is a subdivision of the geologic timescale that is longer than an age but shorter than a period. The current epoch is the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period. Rock layers deposited during an epoch are called a series. Series are subdivisions of the stratigraphic column that, like epochs, are subdivisions of the geologic timescale. Like other geochronological divisions, epochs are normally separated by significant changes in the rock layers to which they correspond.

Series are subdivisions of rock layers based on the age of the rock and formally defined by international conventions of the geological timescale. A series is therefore a sequence of strata defining a chronostratigraphic unit. Series are subdivisions of systems and are themselves divided into stages.

A geologic age is a subdivision of geologic time that divides an epoch into smaller parts. A succession of rock strata laid down in a single age on the geologic timescale is a stage.

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, 541 ± 1.0 to 509 ± 1.7 mya), Middle Cambrian (St Davids or Albertan, 509 ± 1.0 to 497 ± 1.7 mya) and Furongian (497 ± 1.0 to 485.4 ± 1.7 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.

The Furongian is the fourth and final series of the Cambrian. It lasted from 497 to 485.4 million years ago. It succeeds the Miaolingian series of the Cambrian and precedes the Lower Ordovician Tremadocian stage. It is subdivided into three stages: the Paibian, Jiangshanian and the unnamed 10th stage of the 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:

ChineseNorth AmericanRussian-KazakhianAustralianRegional
C
a
m
b
r
i
a
n
Furongian Ibexian (part)AyusokkanianDatsonianDolgellian (Trempealeauan, Fengshanian)
Payntonian
SunwaptanSakianIverianFfestiniogian (Franconian, Changshanian)
SteptoanAksayanIdameanMaentwrogian (Dresbachian)
MarjumanBatyrbayanMindyallan
Miaolingian MaozhangianMayanBoomerangian
ZuzhuangianDelamaranAmganUndillian
ZhungxianFlorian
Templetonian
 DyeranOrdian
Cambrian Series 2 LongwangmioanToyonianLenian
ChanglangpuanMontezumanBotomian
QungzusianAtdabanian
Terreneuvian
Meishuchuan
Jinningian
PlacentianTommotian
Nemakit-Daldynian*
Cordubian
Precambrian SinianHadrynianNemakit-Daldynian*
Sakharan
Adeladean

*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. [14] [15] [16]

Dating the Cambrian

Archeocyathids from the Poleta formation in the Death Valley area Archeocyathids.JPG
Archeocyathids from the Poleta formation in the Death Valley area

The International Commission on Stratigraphy list the Cambrian period as beginning at 541 million years ago and ending at 485.4 million years ago.

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. [17]

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 . [17] 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. [17] [18]

This formal designation allowed radiometric dates to be obtained from samples across the globe that corresponded to the base of the Cambrian. Early dates of 570 million years ago quickly gained favour, [17] 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 541 ± 0.3 million years ago. [19] 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. [17]

Paleogeography

Plate reconstructions suggest a global supercontinent, Pannotia, was in the process of breaking up early in the period, [20] [21] with Laurentia (North America), Baltica, and Siberia having separated from the main supercontinent of Gondwana to form isolated land masses. [22] Most continental land was clustered in the Southern Hemisphere at this time, but was drifting north. [22] Large, high-velocity rotational movement of Gondwana appears to have occurred in the Early Cambrian. [23]

With a lack of sea ice – the great glaciers of the Marinoan Snowball Earth were long melted [24]  – 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. [25]

In Baltoscandia a Lower Cambrian transgression transformed large swathes of the Sub-Cambrian peneplain into an epicontinental sea. [26]

Climate

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.

Flora

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., [9] and microbes forming microbial Earth ecosystems, comparable with modern soil crust of desert regions, contributing to soil formation. [27] [28]

Oceanic life

-4500 
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0 

Most animal life during the Cambrian was aquatic. Trilobites were once assumed to be the dominant life form at that time, [29] 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. [30]

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. [31] 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. [32] 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. [33]

A reconstruction of Margaretia dorus from the Burgess Shale, which were once believed to be green algae, but are now understood to represent hemichordates. Margaretia dorus Reconstruction.png
A reconstruction of Margaretia dorus from the Burgess Shale, which were once believed to be green algae, but are now understood to represent hemichordates.

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. [35] [36]

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. [37] [38] Fossils of the track-maker of Climactichnites have not been found; however, fossil trackways and resting traces suggest a large, slug-like mollusc. [39] [40]

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; [41] and mineralizing animals were rarer than in future periods, in part due to the unfavourable ocean chemistry. [41]

Many modes of preservation are unique to the Cambrian, and some preserve soft body parts, resulting in an abundance of Lagerstätten .

Symbol

The United States Federal Geographic Data Committee uses a "barred capital C" character to represent the Cambrian Period. [42] The Unicode character is U+A792LATIN CAPITAL LETTER C WITH BAR. [43] [44]

See also

Related Research Articles

The Neoproterozoic Era is the unit of geologic time from 1,000 to 541 million years ago.

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 several 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.

<i>Protichnites</i>

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.

<i>Onega stepanovi</i>

Onega stepanovi is a fossil organism from Ediacaran deposites of the Arkhangelsk Region, Russia. It was described by Mikhail A. Fedonkin in 1976

<i>Parvancorina</i>

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.

<i>Climactichnites</i>

Climactichnites is an enigmatic, Cambrian fossil formed on or within sandy tidal flats around 510 million years ago. 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.

Ediacaran biota Enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile organisms that lived during the Ediacaran Period (ca. 635–542 Mya)

The Ediacaranbiota consisted of enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile organisms that lived during the Ediacaran Period. Trace fossils of these organisms have been found worldwide, and represent the earliest known complex multicellular organisms. The Ediacaran biota may have radiated in a proposed event called the Avalon explosion, 575 million years ago, after the Earth had thawed from the Cryogenian period's extensive glaciation. The biota largely disappeared with the rapid increase in biodiversity known as the Cambrian explosion. Most of the currently existing body plans of animals first appeared in the fossil record of the Cambrian rather than the Ediacaran. For macroorganisms, the Cambrian biota appears to have completely replaced the organisms that dominated the Ediacaran fossil record, although relationships are still a matter of debate.

Euthycarcinoidea

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.

Cambrian substrate revolution

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, 542 million years ago, 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 approximately 541 million years ago in 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.

Stratigraphy of the Cambrian

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 series of quarries and outcrops in Central Wisconsin that is notable for its large concentration of trace fossils in Cambrian rocks. One quarry in particular, located in Marathon County, also has the distinction of preserving some of the first land animals. The site is a prolific Cambrian Konservat-Lagerstätte. It includes three-dimensional casts of soft bodied and lightly scleritized invertebrates and a variety of exceptionally preserved types of trace fossils.

Nama Group lithostratigraphic unit

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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Further reading