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Cambrian explosion of Life on Earth

The rate of the evolution of life as recorded by fossils accelerated in the Cambrian period (542–488 Ma). The sudden emergence of many new species, phyla, and forms in this period is called the Cambrian Explosion. The biological fomenting in the Cambrian Explosion was unpreceded before and since that time. Whereas the Ediacaran life forms appear yet primitive and not easy to put in any modern group, at the end of the Cambrian most modern phyla were already present. The development of hard body parts such as shells, skeletons or exoskeletons in animals like molluscs, echinoderms, crinoids and arthropods (a well-known group of arthropods from the lower Paleozoic are the trilobites) made the preservation and fossilization of such life forms easier than those of their Proterozoic ancestors. For this reason, much more is known about life in and after the Cambrian than about that of older periods. Some of these Cambrian groups appear complex but are quite different from modern life; examples are Anomalocaris and Haikouichthys.

During the Cambrian, the first vertebrate animals, among them the first fishes, had appeared. A creature that could have been the ancestor of the fishes, or was probably closely related to it, was Pikaia. It had a primitive notochord, a structure that could have developed into a vertebral column later. The first fishes with jaws (Gnathostomata) appeared during the next geological period, the Ordovician. The colonisation of new niches resulted in massive body sizes. In this way, fishes with increasing sizes evolved during the early Paleozoic, such as the titanic placoderm Dunkleosteus, which could grow 23 feet (7 m) long.

The diversity of life forms did not increase greatly because of a series of mass extinctions that define widespread biostratigraphic units called biomeres. After each extinction pulse, the continental shelf regions were repopulated by similar life forms that may have been evolving slowly elsewhere. By the late Cambrian, the trilobites had reached their greatest diversity and dominated nearly all fossil assemblages.

Explanation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Earth#Cambrian_explosion


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