The oldest cephalopods in the history of the earth come from the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland (Canada). They were discovered by earth scientists from the University of Heidelberg. The 522 million-year-old fossils could be the first known form of these invertebrate organisms, whose descendants today include species such as the mahogany, octopus and nautilus. In that case, the discovery would show that the cephalopods evolved about 30 million years earlier than expected.
“If they really were to be cephalopods, we had to bring back a background of cephalopods to the early Cambrian,” said Dr. Anne Hildenbrand of the Institute of Earth Sciences. above the research projects carried out in collaboration with the Bavarian Natural History Collections. “
The calcareous shells of the fossils found on the eastern Avalon peninsula are shaped like a longish cone and divided into separate chambers. These are connected by a tube called a siphuncle. Thus the cephalopods were the first organisms capable of actively moving up and down the water and thus settling in the open ocean as their habitat. The fossils are distant relatives of the nautilus in a spiral shape, but they clearly differ in shape from early finds and representatives of that surviving class.
“This discovery is remarkable,” said Dr Austermann. “In scientific circles there has long been a suspicion that the evolution of these advanced organisms had begun much earlier than previously thought. But there was a lack of fossil evidence to support this theory.” According to Heidelberg scientists, the fossils from the Avalon Peninsula may provide this evidence, because on the one hand, they are similar to other well-known early cephalopods but, on the other hand, different from them and that they could form a connection that could lead to an early Cambrian.
The previously studied microclimate Avalonia, which – in addition to the east coast of Newfoundland – is made up of parts of Europe, is particularly suitable for paleontological study, as much of the various creatures from the Cambrian period still preserved in its cliffs. The researchers hope that other, better preserved finds will confirm the classification of their findings as early cephalopods.
The results of the research into the 522 million year old fossils were published in the journal Nature Communication Biology. Logistical support was provided by the province of Newfoundland and the Manuels River Natural Heritage Association located there. The publication was enabled in open access format in the context of Project DEAL.
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