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Nature. 2015 Aug 20;524(7565):343-6. doi: 10.1038/nature14646. Epub 2015 Aug 3.

Reconstructing the reproductive mode of an Ediacaran macro-organism.

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Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EQ, UK.
British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG, UK.
School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Life Sciences Building, 24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ, UK.
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3AN, UK.


Enigmatic macrofossils of late Ediacaran age (580-541 million years ago) provide the oldest known record of diverse complex organisms on Earth, lying between the microbially dominated ecosystems of the Proterozoic and the Cambrian emergence of the modern biosphere. Among the oldest and most enigmatic of these macrofossils are the Rangeomorpha, a group characterized by modular, self-similar branching and a sessile benthic habit. Localized occurrences of large in situ fossilized rangeomorph populations allow fundamental aspects of their biology to be resolved using spatial point process techniques. Here we use such techniques to identify recurrent clustering patterns in the rangeomorph Fractofusus, revealing a complex life history of multigenerational, stolon-like asexual reproduction, interspersed with dispersal by waterborne propagules. Ecologically, such a habit would have allowed both for the rapid colonization of a localized area and for transport to new, previously uncolonized areas. The capacity of Fractofusus to derive adult morphology by two distinct reproductive modes documents the sophistication of its underlying developmental biology.

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