Previous patchy evidence was insufficient to reveal the relationships of the machaeridians to other animals and there was much speculation about their position in the tree of life. Different authors suggested relationships to groups as varied as mollusks (clams and snails), barnacles (crustaceans including shrimps, crabs and crayfish), echinoderms (starfish and sea urchins) and annelid worms (aquatic bristle worms and garden earthworms).
This inch-long specimen that was recently discovered shows that, below the dorsal armor, the machaeridians had an elongate body with paired, soft, limb-like extensions on each segment, and two bundles of long, stiff bristles on each extension. The segmented nature of the body, and especially the presence of soft limbs carrying bristles, unequivocally identified the machaeridians as annelid worms, say the scientists.
According to the authors, although the exact relationship of machaeridians within the annelid worms is still uncertain, the presence of modified scales suggests that they may even belong to a group of marine bristle worms that are still in existence today.
This exciting discovery has provided important new insights into annelid evolution, showing that some of these worms, which first appeared during the Cambrian radiation, evolved a highly distinctive dorsal, mineralised armor early in their history, said senior author Derek Briggs, the Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University. It also highlights the great importance of the study of exceptional fossil sites, and of palaeobiology in general, for a better understanding of the evolution of our biosphere. Briggs, the director of the Y
|Contact: Janet Rettig Emanuel|