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New early Cambrian animal and onychophoran affinities of enigmatic metazoans

Abstract

THERE is much interest in the early evolution of metazoans with the restudy of the Middle Cambrian 'soft-bodied' fauna of the Burgess Shale1. Several other, newly discovered Cambrian 'soft-bodied' faunas2 provide a wealth of new data. One of the oldest and best-preserved faunas was discovered in 1984 in Chengjiang in southern China3. This fauna is of early Cambrian age, about late Atdabanian4 (520–530 Myr BP)2. We now describe a new 'armoured lobopod' from the Chengjiang fauna. This animal shows close affinity with the enigmatic Microdictyon5. The conundrum Halludgenia6 is reinterpreted as another 'armoured lobopod', as are Xenusion7 and Luolishania8. The large plates set in pairs along the trunk are a synapomorphy of this group, which flourished soon after the 'Cambrian explosion'. Soft-part anatomy suggests that the group has affinities with the Burgess Shale 'lobopod' Aysheaia9. All these marine, Cambrian forms are here grouped with the extant, terrestrial velvet worms in the phylum Onychophora.

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