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Fossil and Earliest Reproduction: 565-Million-Year-Old Canadian Organism

Aug 03, 2015 10:34 PM EDT
New prehistoric reproduction findings are based on Newfoundland fossils.
This is an artist's reconstruction of the Fractofusus community of rangeomorphs on Newfoundland's Bonavista Peninsula. Researchers recently learned about the earliest organism reproduction on earth, from fossils found here.
(Photo : Artist's Image: C. G. Kenchington)

The earliest example of reproduction in a complex organism has been found by University of Cambridge researchers in Newfoundland. They recently published a report in the journal Nature, about their work with organisms called rangeomorphs, which lived in oceans during the Ediacaran period, 565 million years ago. They looked like trees or ferns.

Essentially, the rangeomorphs sent out an "advance party" to settle in a new area, then rapidly colonized the area. Their reproduction tactics have similarities with the biological clustering methods of modern plants, according to a release.

The researchers used high-resolution GPS, spatial statistics and modeling to look at fossils of the Fractofusus type of rangeomorph. From this, they found a pattern of grandparent, parent, and child rangeomorphs, and they saw that offspring arose on tendrils or runners from the older generation, in the way of strawberry plants. The plant-like clustering also suggests that the grandparents arose from seeds or spores carried by water, the release said.

Rangeomorphs disappeared at the beginning of the Cambrian period, like many life forms during the Ediacaran period. "Rangeomorphs don't look like anything else in the fossil record, which is why they're such a mystery," said Dr. Emily Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences, in the release. "But we've developed a whole new way of looking at them, which has helped us understand them a lot better -- most interestingly, how they reproduced."

Southeastern Newfoundland is one of the world's richest sources of fossils from the Ediacaran period.

To learn more about the Ediacaran period, click here and here for links to the Royal Ontario Museum and a paleontological site at the University of California, Berkeley, respectively. 

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @TreesWhales

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