An early Ediacaran assemblage of macroscopic and morphologically differentiated eukaryotes


The deep-water Avalon biota (about 579 to 565 million years old) is often regarded as the earliest-known fossil assemblage with macroscopic and morphologically complex life forms1. It has been proposed that the rise of the Avalon biota was triggered by the oxygenation of mid-Ediacaran deep oceans2. Here we report a diverse assemblage of morphologically differentiated benthic macrofossils that were preserved largely in situ as carbonaceous compressions in black shales of the Ediacaran Lantian Formation (southern Anhui Province, South China). The Lantian biota, probably older than and taxonomically distinct from the Avalon biota, suggests that morphological diversification of macroscopic eukaryotes may have occurred in the early Ediacaran Period, perhaps shortly after the Marinoan glaciation, and that the redox history of Ediacaran oceans was more complex than previously thought.

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Figure 1: Locality maps and stratigraphic columns.
Figure 2: Photomicrographs of Lantian macrofossils of probably algal affinities.
Figure 3: Photomicrographs of new Lantian forms with uncertain phylogenetic affinities.


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This research was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Science Foundation, the NASA Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program and the Guggenheim Foundation. We thank G. Jiang for useful discussions.

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X.Y. and Z.C. led field excavation. X.Y., S.X, Z.C. and C.Z. conducted research and developed the interpretation. S.X. and X.Y. prepared the manuscript with input from Z.C., C.Z. and H.H.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xunlai Yuan or Shuhai Xiao.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Yuan, X., Chen, Z., Xiao, S. et al. An early Ediacaran assemblage of macroscopic and morphologically differentiated eukaryotes. Nature 470, 390–393 (2011).

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