The Oldest Echinoderm Faunas From Gondwana Show That Echinoderm Body Plan Diversification Was Rapid

Nat Commun. 2013;4:1385. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2391.


The earliest fossil echinoderms have, until now, come almost exclusively from North America and are represented by few taxa, all of which have a radiate body plan. Here we report the discovery of two new echinoderm faunas from the early part of the Cambrian of Morocco (West Gondwana). The former represents the oldest echinoderm fauna from Gondwana, approximately equivalent in age to those from North America, and the latter the oldest diversified fauna from Gondwana. In both cases, the appearance of well-preserved echinoderms coincides with a change in palaeogeographic regime. The presence of four markedly different echinoderm body plans in these earliest faunas indicates that considerable diversification had already taken place by 510 Ma. Yet all share the same distinctive biomineralized skeleton that, based on the fossil record and ocean geochemistry, probably evolved just 10-15 my earlier. This suggests that a rapid rate of morphological divergence took place during the initial stages of echinoderm evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Echinodermata / anatomy & histology*
  • Fossils*
  • Geography
  • Morocco
  • Time Factors