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A pipiscid-like fossil from the Lower Cambrian of south China


Exceptional fossil preservation is critical to our understanding of early metazoan evolution. A key source of information is the Burgess Shale-type faunas1,2,3,4,5. Fossils from these deposits provide important insights into metazoan phylogeny, notably that of stem-group protostomes2,3,6, and related topics such as trophic specialization7. Metazoan relationships are also being significantly reappraised in terms of molecular-based phylogenies8,9, but integration of these data with palaeontological systematics is not straightforward10,11. Moreover, molecular phylogenies are silent concerning the anatomies of stem-groups and the functional transitions that underpin the origin of different body plans2,6. Some hitherto enigmatic fossils possess unique character–state combinations that, although they can be shoe-horned into extinct phyla12, may be more profitably interpreted as defining major stem-groups2,3. Here we describe a possible pipiscid, a metazoan previously known only from the Upper Carboniferous13,14, from the Lower Cambrian of south China. Pipiscids are currently interpreted as being agnathan chordates13,14,15, but this discovery from the Chengjiang fossil-Lagerstätte indicates that the assignment of pipiscids to the Agnatha deserves to be reconsidered.

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Figure 1: The Cambrian fossil Xidazoon stephanus, new species and Carboniferous ?agnathan Pipiscius zangerli.
Figure 2


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We thank the National Foundation of Natural Sciences of China, Minister of Science and Technology of China, Royal Society, National Geographic Society, and St John's College, Cambridge for support. Access to Pipiscius was facilitated by P. Crane (Field Museum, Chicago), and M. P. Smith and P. Donoghue (University of Birmingham). Technical assistance by S. J. Last and D. R. Simons is acknowledged, as are critical comments by P. Janvier, D. B. Norman and S. Jensen.

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Shu, D., Morris, S., Zhang, XL. et al. A pipiscid-like fossil from the Lower Cambrian of south China. Nature 400, 746–749 (1999).

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