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Ediacara Biota

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 09 July 2009

Melvyn Bragg and guests Martin Brasier, Richard Corfield and Rachel Wood discuss the Ediacara Biota, the Precambrian life forms which vanished 542 million years ago, and whose discovery proved Darwin right in a way he never imagined.

Darwin was convinced that there must have been life before the Cambrian era, but he didn't think it was possible for fossils like the Ediacara to have been preserved. These sea-bed organisms were first unearthed in the 19th century, but were only recognised as Precambrian in the mid-20th century.

This was an astonishing discovery. Ever since, scientists have been working to determine its significance. Were the Ediacara the earliest forms of animal life? Or were they a Darwinian dead end? Either way, it is argued, they reveal some of the secrets of the workings of evolution.

Richard Corfield is Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences at the Open University; Martin Brasier is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Oxford; Rachel Wood is Lecturer in Carbonate Geoscience at the University of Edinburgh.

  • Earth clock illustrating the life of the Earth in relation to Ediacara Biota

    Earth clock illustrating the life of the Earth in relation to Ediacara Biota

    Illustration courtesy of Richard Corfield, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford.

  • Further Reading

    Fedonkin, M.A. and others, The Rise of Animals (The John Hopkins University Press, 2007)

    Corfield, Richard, The Silent Landscape: The Scientific Voyage of HMS Challenger (Joseph Henry Press, 2003)

    Corfield, Richard, Architects of Eternity: The New Science of Fossils (Headline, 2001)

    Brasier, Martin, Darwin’s Lost World: The hidden history of animal life (Oxford University Press, 2009)

    Narbonne, Guy M., ‘THE EDIACARA BIOTA: Neoproterozoic Origin of Animals and Their Ecosystems’, in Annual Review of Earth Planetary Science (2005, Vol. 33)

    Antcliffe, J.B., and Brasier, M.D., ‘Review Article. Charnia at fifty: developmental models for Ediacaran fronds’ 2008 Palaeontology, 51, 11-26

    Brasier, M.D, and Antcliffe, J.B., ‘Dickinsonia from Ediacara: a new look at morphology and body construction’ Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 2008 270, 311-323

    Brasier, M.D., and Antcliffe, J.B., ‘Evolutionary relationships within the Avalonian Ediacara biota: new insights from Laser Analysis’, Journal of the Geological Society, 2009, 166, 363-384

    Callow, R., H.T. and Brasier, M.D, ‘A solution to Darwin’s Dilemma of 1859: exceptional preservation in Salter’s material from the Ediacaran Longmyndian Supergroup, England’, Journal of the Geological Society, 2009, 166, 1-4

    Zhuravlev, A. Yu., Wood, R.A, Pratt, B.R., and Spincer, B., ‘Lower Cambrian Reef Ecology’ in Advances in Cambrian Ecology (Columbia University Press, 2000)

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