A new fossil that establishes the body plan of early cnidarians — the group that contains jellyfish — tens of millions of years earlier than previously anticipated is presented in a paper published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The cnidarian fossil, which is named for David Attenborough, may help to resolve the evolutionary history of this group.
Cnidarians — the group that includes corals and jellyfish — have a long, but patchy, early fossil record.
Frances Dunn and colleagues present Auroralumina attenboroughi, a cnidarian fossil from the Ediacaran Period (557 to 562 million years ago), which was found in Charnwood Forest in the UK. A. attenboroughi combines medusozoan (jellyfish) features with those that are more similar to anthozoans (corals), placing it as one of the earliest members of the group that includes living cnidarians. The authors argue that it may be one of the oldest relatives we know from any evolutionary group that still has living descendants. Although animal body plans are often thought to have become fixed during the subsequent Cambrian period (541 to 485 million years ago), A. attenboroughi is a much earlier example of this.
The genus name for A. attenboroughi means 'dawn lantern', reflecting the fossil’s ancient age. The species is named in honour of David Attenborough, who is credited with raising awareness of Ediacaran fossils in Charnwood Forest.
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