Recognizing any similarities between the brachiopods, the bryozoans and the phoronids could appear inconceivable. These sea creatures do all reside sedentary existence — attaching themselves to rocks and reefs alongside the ocean ground. However what traits may the clam-like, hard-shelled brachiopods probably share with animals that resemble frilly aquatic crops?
Scientists say that the reply lies in these animals’ ancestry. In keeping with recent research in Present Biology, all dwelling brachiopods, bryozoans and phoronids might hint their lineage again to a single species — an historical, armored worm often called Wufengella.
“When it first turned clear to me what this fossil was that I used to be taking a look at underneath the microscope, I couldn’t consider my eyes. This can be a fossil that we’ve usually speculated about and hoped we might someday lay eyes on,” says Luke Parry, a examine writer and paleobiologist on the College of Oxford, in response to a press launch.
All animals are separated into considered one of round 30-or-so separate classes known as phyla. These phyla all characteristic particular units of anatomical constructions that distinguish them from the others, and only some of those constructions are included in multiple phylum.
As an illustration, solely three phyla — the brachiopods, the bryozoans and the phoronids — share units of folded-up, frilled tentacles known as lophophores. Permitting an animal to grab particles of meals as they float by means of the ocean, these specialised tentacles present the three phyla their collective title, the “lophophorates.” Additionally they supply an anatomical clue that the lophophorates may very well be carefully associated to at least one one other, regardless of the opposite variations of their physique constructions.
Now, a very well-preserved fossil specimen from 518 million years in the past provides additional assist for the shut ancestry of those three phyla. It reveals that their most up-to-date frequent ancestor was in all probability the Wufengella, an agile, armored species of worm.
“This discovery highlights how necessary fossils may be for reconstructing evolution,” says Greg Edgecombe, a examine writer and a researcher on the Pure Historical past Museum in London, in response to a press release. “We get an incomplete image by solely taking a look at dwelling animals, with the comparatively few anatomical characters which can be shared between totally different phyla. With fossils like Wufengella, we will hint every lineage again to its roots, realizing how they as soon as seemed altogether totally different and had very totally different modes of life, typically distinctive and typically shared with extra distant kinfolk.”
In keeping with the staff of researchers analyzing the fossil, Wufengella was a small, brief species lower than an inch lengthy. The traditional worm was protected by an array of armored, shell-like plates, and lined in a variety of lobe-like protrusions and bunches of bristles all throughout the edges of its physique.
These traits, the researchers say, along with inner constructions inside the worm’s physique, suggest the species’ shared ancestry with the lophophorates. Plus, when mixed with molecular analyses of the animals’ amino acid sequences, they affirm that at present’s brachiopods, bryozoans and phoronids are all carefully associated to at least one one other.
“Wufengella belongs to a gaggle of Cambrian fossils that’s essential for understanding how lophophorates advanced,” says Parry.