Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Notes on timescales & biota (dictionary.com)

Cambrian fauna
Of those modern animal phyla that fossilize easily, all save the bryozoans appear to have representatives in the Cambrian, and of these most (except the considerably older sponges) seem to have originated near the start of the period. Many extinct phyla and odd animals that have unclear relationships to other animals also appear in the Cambrian. The apparent "sudden" appearance of very diverse faunas over a period of no more than a few tens of millions of years is referred to as the "Cambrian Explosion". Also, the first possible tracks on land, such as Protichnites and Climactichnites, dating to about 530 mya and found in Ontario, Canada, and northern United States, appeared at this time. The conodonts, small predatory primitive chordates known from their fossilised teeth, also appeared during the Furongian epoch of the Cambrian period. The conodonts thrived throughout the Paleozoic and the early Mesozoic until they completely disappeared during the Late Triassic period when the first mammals were evolving.
The best studied sites where the soft parts of organisms have fossilized are in the Burgess shale of British Columbia. They represent strata from the Middle Cambrian and provide us with a wealth of information on early animal diversity. Similar faunas have subsequently been found in a number of other places — most importantly in very early Cambrian shales in the People's Republic of China's Yunnan Province (see Maotianshan shales). Fairly extensive Precambrian Ediacaran faunas have been identified in the past 50 years, but their relationships to Cambrian forms are quite obscure.
Cambrian flora
Generally it is accepted that there were no land plants at this time although molecular dating suggests that land plant ancestors diverged from the algae much earlier, in the Neoproterozoic about 700 ma, and that fungi diverged from the animals about 1 billion years ago. The land at this time was barren, mostly desert and badlands.

The Ordovician seas were rich in animal life. The most characteristic invertebrates were minute graptolites, other numerous forms being brachiopods, bryozoans, and trilobites. Some cystoids and crinoids appeared; there were a few corals and many cephalopods. Especially noteworthy was the appearance of a few primitive, fishlike vertebrates (jawless fishes) and tiny land plants resembling liverworts.
Ordovician fauna
Though less famous than the Cambrian explosion, the Ordovician featured an adaptive radiation that was no less remarkable; marine faunal genera increased fourfold, resulting in 12% of all known Phanerozoic marine fauna. The trilobite, inarticulate brachiopod, archaeocyathid, and eocrinoid faunas of the Cambrian were succeeded by those which would dominate for the rest of the Paleozoic, such as articulate brachiopods, cephalopods, and crinoids; articulate brachiopods, in particular, largely replaced trilobites in shelf communities. Their success epitomizes the greatly increased diversity of carbonate shell-secreting organisms in the Ordovician compared to the Cambrian.In North America and Europe, the Ordovician was a time of shallow continental seas rich in life. Trilobites and brachiopods in particular were rich and diverse. The first bryozoa appeared in the Ordovician as did the first coral reefs. Solitary corals date back to at least the Cambrian. Molluscs, which had also appeared during the Cambrian or the Ediacaran, became common and varied, especially bivalves, gastropods, and nautiloid cephalopods. It was long thought that the first true vertebrates (fish - Ostracoderms) appeared
in the Ordovician, but recent discoveries in China reveal that they probably originated in the Early Cambrian. The very first jawed fish appeared in the Late Ordovician epoch. Now-extinct marine animals called graptolites thrived in the oceans. Some cystoids and crinoids appeared.
During the Middle Ordovician there was a large increase in the intensity and diversity of bioeroding organisms. This is known as the Ordovician Bioerosion Revolution (Wilson & Palmer, 2006). It is marked by a sudden abundance of hard substrate trace fossils such as Trypanites, Palaeosabella and Petroxestes.
Trilobites in the Ordovician were very different than their predecessors in the Cambrian, Many trilobites developed bizarre spines and nodules to defend against predators such as primitive sharks and Nautiloid cephalopods while other trilobites such as Aeglina prisca evolved to become swimming forms. Some trilobites even developed shovel-like snouts for ploughing through muddy sea bottoms. Another unusual clade of trilobites known as the Trinucleids developed a broad pitted margin around their head shields. Other trilobites such as (Asaphus kowalewski) evolved long eyestalks to assist in detecting predators while some trilobite eyes by contrast took the opposing evolutionary direction and disappeared completely.
Ordovician florareen algae were common in the Ordovician and Late Cambrian (perhaps earlier). Plants probably evolved from green algae. The first terrestrial plants appeared in the form of tiny non-vascular plants resembling liverworts. Fossil spores from land plants have been identified in uppermost Ordovician sediments, but among the first land fungi may have been Arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi (Glomerales), playing a crucial role in facilitating the colonization of land by plants through mycorrhizal symbiosis, which makes mineral nutrients available to plant cells; such fossilized fungal hyphae and spores from the Ordovician of Wisconsin have been found with an age of about 460 mya, a time when the land flora most likely only consisted of plants similar to non-vascular bryophytes. Marine fungi were abundant in the Ordovician seas to decompose animal carcasses, and other wastes.


Dominating the life of the Silurian were marine invertebrates, including crinoids and cystoids, mollusks, and eurypterids, invertebrates related to crabs and insects. Members of the trilobite family were still numerous; primitive fishes increased in number. Also notable in the Silurian fauna were scorpions, possibly the first animals to live on land and take their oxygen from the air.
First terrestrial biota
The Silurian was the first period to see extensive terrestrial biota, in the form of moss forests along lakes and streams. Dominating these early colonisation of land was liverworts and hornworts. Mosses, not having roots would not have been able to hold on to the first soils. Some authorities have suggested erosion of the primitive soil is the reason for the often brownish appearance of Silurian sediments. Myriapods became the first proper terrestrial animals inhabiting the early moss and early vascular plant forets. The terrestrial ecosystems included the first multicellular terrestrial animals that have been identified, relatives of modern spiders and millipedes whose fossils were discovered in the 1990s.
The first fossil records of vascular plants, that is, land plants with tissues that carry food, appeared in the second half of the Silurian period. The earliest known representatives of this group are the Cooksonia (mostly from the northern hemisphere) and Baragwanathia (from Australia). A primitive Silurian land plant with xylem and phloem but no differentiation in root, stem or leaf, was much-branched Psilophyton, reproducing by spores and breathing through stomata on every surface, and probably photosynthesizing in every tissue exposed to light. Rhyniophyta and primitive lycopods were other land plants that first appear during this period.
The most notable Devonian animals were the jawed and bony fishes, which appeared in great numbers toward the close of the period. Conspicuous types were sharks, armored fishes, lungfishes, and ganoid fishes. Common invertebrates of the Devonian were crinoids, starfishes, sponges, and early ammonites; trilobites and graptolites became scarcer. An unusual surge of coral reef growth also occurred and corals were never again as prolific. Of land animals, the chief vestige is the footprint of a primitive salamanderlike amphibian in the Upper Devonian of Pennsylvania. Trees made their first appearance; the Devonian plants were the earliest to be extensively preserved as fossils, but their high degree of development suggests that more primitive forms existed earlier.
The Devonian is a geologic period of the Paleozoic era spanning from . It is named after Devon, England, where Exmoor rocks from this period were first studied.
During the Devonian Period, which occurred in the Paleozoic era, the first fish evolved legsand started to walk on land as tetrapods around 365 Ma, and the first insects and spiders also started to colonize terrestrial habitats. The first seed-bearing plants spread across dry land, forming huge forests. In the oceans, primitive sharks became more numerous than in the Silurian and the late Ordovician, and the first lobe-finned and bony fish. The first ammonite mollusks appeared, and trilobites, the mollusc-like brachiopods, as well as great coral reefs were still common. The Late Devonian extinction severely affected marine life.
The paleogeography was dominated by the supercontinent of Gondwana to the south, the continent of Siberia to the north, and the early formation of the small supercontinent of Euramerica in the middle.

The plant life of the Carboniferous period was extensive and luxuriant, especially during the
Pennsylvanian. It included ferns and fernlike trees; giant horsetails, called calamites; club mosses, or lycopods, such as Lepidodendron and Sigillaria; seed ferns; and cordaites, or primitive conifers. Land animals included primitive amphibians, reptiles (which first appeared in the Upper Carboniferous), spiders, millipedes, land snails, scorpions, enormous dragonflies, and more than 800 kinds of cockroaches. The inland waters were inhabited by fishes, clams, and various crustaceans; the oceans, by mollusks, crinoids, sea urchins, and one-celled foraminifera.
Evolution of Plant and Animal Life
Many marine animals became extinct during the Permian, but there was at the same time an evolution to more modern types, a marked change in the insects, and a notable increase in numbers and varieties of reptiles mainly because of the continental changes. Among plants, Lepidodendron and Sigillaria became rare, but ferns and conifers persisted. The widely distributed "seed fern," Glossopteris, which was apparently successful in resisting glacial conditions, was the most conspicuous development in the Permian flora. The presence of Glossopteris in South America, Antarctica, Australia, and S Africa is a strong argument favoring the interconnection of these land masses in a large supercontinent during Permian time. The end of the Permian is marked in the fossil record by a mass extinction.

Epoch and age refer to time, and equivalents series and stage refer to the rocks.

The climate of the Triassic was semiarid to arid. In the plant life, marine algae were abundant, ferns and tree ferns less important than in the Paleozoic, conifers dominant among the trees, and a new group, the cycads, appeared. Many Paleozoic invertebrates appeared for the last time in the Triassic. The ammonites became very important, then were reduced at the end of the Triassic to one species, but were destined to become numerous again in the succeeding Jurassic period. Amphibians were apparently not as numerous as in the Paleozoic, but some types were more highly developed. The dominant animals of the Triassic were the reptiles; although the Triassic reptiles were less specialized than those of the Jurassic, there were already a number of types of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and marine reptiles. The Triassic rocks also contain the fossils of the earliest known mammals. The history of the European Jurassic is very well known, that system being one of the most complete on the Continent. Studies of oxygen isotopes, the extent of land flora, and marine fossils indicate that climates during Jurassic times were mild—perhaps 15°F; (8°C;) warmer than those of today. No glaciers existed during this period. The plant life of the Jurassic was dominated by the cycads, but conifers, ginkgoes, horsetails, and ferns were also abundant. Of the marine invertebrates, the most important were the ammonites. The dominant animals on land, in the sea, and in the air were the reptiles. Dinosaurs, more numerous and more extraordinary than those of the Triassic period, were the chief land animals; crocodiles, ichthyosaurs, and plesiosaurs ruled the sea, while the air was inhabited by the pterosaurs and relatives. Mammals, making their first appearance, were few and small but undoubtedly
became well established during the Jurassic period. The Jurassic saw the appearance of the first bird, Archaeopteryx.
The Lower Cretaceous is characterized by a revolution in the plant life, with the sudden appearance of flowering plants (angiosperms) such as the ancestors of the beech, fig, magnolia, and sassafras. By the end of the Cretaceous such plants became dominant. Willow, elm, grape, laurel, birch, oak, and maple also made their appearance, along with grass and the sequoias of California. Closely associated with the angiosperms were insects, including a form of the dragonfly, and most were similar to today's insects. This prepared the way for the increase in mammals in the late Cenozoic. The marine invertebrates of the Cretaceous included nautiluses, barnacles, lobsters, crabs, sea urchins, ammonites, and foraminifers. Reptiles reached their zenith, including the dinosaurs Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus), and Iguanodon, and ranged from herbivores to carnivores. Flying reptiles
such as the pterosaurs were highly developed, while in the sea there were ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs. Other reptiles living in this period include crocodiles and giant turtles; snakes and lizards made their first appearance at this time. True mammals, which had already appeared in the Triassic period, were rare, as the Cretaceous reptiles dominated.
The climate of the Cretaceous was apparently fairly mild and uniform, but it is possible that toward the end of the period some variant zones of climate had appeared, making the overall climate cooler. Such changes, along with changes in both the earth's surface and its flora and fauna, brought the Mesozoic to a close. By the end of the Cretaceous, about 75% of all species, including marine, freshwater, and terrestrial organisms, became extinct. The rather abrupt disappearance of Cretaceous life remains a mystery. Theories for the extinctions include one or a mixture of the following: drastic cooling of the globe, retreat of the seas, breakup of the continents (see continental drift), biological disease, reversals of the earth's magnetic field, or a change in atmospheric carbon dioxide and oxygen. Another popular theory was introduced in 1980 by Luis Alvarez and colleagues at the Univ. of California. Alvarez proposed that the
earth was struck by an asteroid or comet about 6 mi (10 km) in diameter around 65 million years ago. Such an impact (or collection of impacts) would spread dust into the atmosphere, suppressing photosynthesis and changing the food chain. Evidence for an impact includes an anomalous iridium layer, typical of meteorites, and some probable impact craters dated to the late Cretaceous.

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