Fossil assemblages that preserve soft-bodied organisms are essential for our understanding of the composition and diversity of past life. The worldwide terminal Proterozoic Ediacara-type fossils (from ∼600–544 Myr BP) are unique in consisting of soft-bodied animals, which are typically preserved as impressions in coarse-grained sediments1,2,3,4. These Lagerstätten are also special because they pre-date the major burst of skeletonization, which occurred near the start of the Cambrian period3. Most Ediacara-type fossils are interpreted to be cnidarians, but higher metazoans such as annelids and molluscs may also be represented1,2,3,4. However, the unique style of preservation and difficulties in finding convincing morphological homologies with definite animals have led some specialists to prefer non-metazoan interpretations, such as Vendobionta5. In addition, the rarity of Ediacara-type fossils in younger sediments has led to suggestions of a terminal Proterozoic mass extinction6. Here we report typical Ediarcara-type frond-shaped fossils that occur together with an assemblage of Cambrian-type trace fossils in unequivocally Cambrian-aged sediments of the Uratanna Formation, South Australia. This occurrence bridges the apparent divide between the terminal Proterozoic and Cambrian fossil assemblages, and also suggests that closure of a taphonomic window (an interval of time with unique preservational conditions) was as important as extinction in the disappearance of Ediacara-type organisms.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Gehling, J. G. The case for Ediacaran fossil roots to the metazoan tree. Mem. Geol. Soc. India 20, 181–224 (1991).
Runnegar, B. N. Vendobionta or metazoa? Developments in understanding the Ediacara “fauna”. Neues Jb. Geol. Palaentol Abh. 195, 303–318 (1995).
Conway Morris, S. The fossil record and the early evolution of the Metazoa. Nature 361, 219–225 (1993).
Fedonkin, M. A. & Waggoner, B. M. The Late Precambrian fossil Kimberella is a mollusc-like bilaterian organism. Nature 388, 868–871 (1997).
Seilacher, A. Vendobionta and Psammocorallia: lost constructions of Precambrian evolution. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 149, 607–613 (1992).
Brasier, M. D. in Global Events and Event Stratigraphy in the Phanerozoic (ed. Walliser, O. H.) 113–138 (Springer, Berlin, (1995).
Crimes, T. P., Insole, A. & Williams, B. J. P. Arigid-bodied Ediacaran Biota from Upper Cambrian Strata in Co. Wexford, Eire. Geol. J. 30, 89–109 (1995).
Conway Morris, S. Ediacaran-like fossils in Cambrian Burgess Shale-type faunas of North America. Palaeontology 36, 593–635 (1993).
Daily, B. Discovery and significance of basal Cambrian Uratanna Formation, Mt Scott Range, Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Search 4, 202–205 (1973).
Mount, J. F. & McDonald, C. Influence of change in climate, sea level, and depositional systems on the fossil record of the Neoproterozoic-early Cambrian metazoan radiation, Australia. Geology 20, 1031–1034 (1992).
Jenkins, R. J. F., Ford, C. H. & Gehling, J. G. The Ediacara Member of the Rawnsley Quartzite: the context of the Ediacara assemblage (Late Precambrian, Flinders Ranges). Geol. Soc. Aust. J. 30, 101–119 (1983).
Jensen, S. Trace fossils from the Lower Cambrian Mickwitzia sandstone, south-central Sweden. Fossils Strata 42, 1–110 (1997).
Narbonne, G. M., Saylor, B. Z. & Grotzinger, J. P. The youngest Ediacaran fossils from southern Africa. J. Paleontol. 71, 953–967 (1997).
Crimes, T. P. Trace fossils and correlation of the late Precambrian and early Cambrian strata. Geol. Mag. 124, 97–119 (1987).
Narbonne, G. M. & Myrow, P. Trace fossils, small shelly fossils and the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary. New York State Mus. Bull. 463, 72–76 (1988).
Jensen, S. & Grant, S. W. F. Trace fossils from the Dividal Group, northern Sweden: implications for Early Cambrian biostratigraphy of Baltica. Norsk Geol. Tids.(in the press).
Gureev, Yu. A. in Problematiki Pozdnego Dokembriya i Paleozoya (eds Sokolov, B. S. & Zhuravleva, I. T.) 92–103 (Nauka, Moscow, (1985).
Narbonne, G. M., Myrow, P., Landing, E. & Anderson, M. A. Achondrophorine (medusoid hydrozoan) from the basal Cambrian (Placentian) of Newfoundland. J. Paleontol. 65, 186–191 (1991).
Runnegar, B., Gehling, J. G., Horodyski, R. J., Jensen, S. & Knauth, L. P. Base of the Sauk Sequence is a global eustatic event that lies just above the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary. Geol. Soc. Am. Abstr. 27, 330 (1995).
Daily, B. Novye danneye ob osnovanii Kembriya v juzhnoj Avstralii. Izvestiya Akad. Nauk SSSR, Ser. Geol. 3, 45–52 (1976).
Gravestock, D. I. & Shergold, J. H. in Ecology of the Cambrian Radiation (eds Zhuravlev, A. Yu. & Riding, R.) (Columbia Univ. Press, New York, in the press).
Grotzinger, J. P., Bowring, S. A., Saylor, B. Z. & Kaufman, A. J. Biostratigraphic and geochronologic constraints on early animal evolution. Science 270, 598–604 (1995).
Bowring, S. A.et al. Calibrating rates of Early Cambrian evolution. Science 261, 1293–1298 (1993).
Brasier, M. D., Shields, G., Kuleshov, V. N. & Zhegallo, E. A. Integrated chemo- and biostratigraphic calibration of early animal evolution: Neoproterozoic–early Cambrian of southwest Mongolia. Geol. Mag. 133, 445–485 (1996).
Gehling, J. G. & Rigby, J. K. Long expected sponges from the Neoproterozoic Ediacara Fauna of South Australia. J. Paleontol. 70, 185–195 (1996).
Brasier, M., Green, O. & Shields, G. Ediacaran sponge spicule cluster from southwestern Mongolia and the origins of the Cambrian fauna. Geology 25, 303–306 (1997).
Gehling, J. G. Acnidarian of actinian-grade from the Ediacaran Pound Subgroup, South Australia. Alcheringa 12, 299–314 (1988).
Gehling, J. G. in 12th Int. Sed. Congr. Canberra, Abst. 117 (1986).
Seilacher, A. & Pflüger, F. in Biostabilization of Sediments (eds Krumbein, W. E., Paterson, D. M. & Stal, L. J.) 97–105 (Bibliotheks und Informationssystem Univ. Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany, (1994).
Droser, M. L. & Li, X. in Ecology of the Cambrian Radiation (eds Zhuravlev, A. Yu. & Riding, R.) (Columbia Univ. Press, New York, in the press).
We thank the National Geographic Society for financial support covering logistics and fieldwork for this project; S. Conway Morris for comments on the manuscript; and M. Walter for reviews. J.G.G. acknowledges financial support from a University of South Australia small ARC grant. S.J. is supported by a grant from NERC.
About this article
Cite this article
Jensen, S., Gehling, J. & Droser, M. Ediacara-type fossils in Cambrian sediments. Nature 393, 567–569 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/31215
Precambrian Research (2020)
Nature Ecology & Evolution (2019)
Resolution of the earliest metazoan record: Differential taphonomy of Ediacaran and Paleozoic fossil molds and casts
Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (2019)
Estudios Geológicos (2019)