Fossil site reveals that giant arthropods dominated the seas 470 million years ago

Fossils from the Vizuata rock. From left to right, non-metallic arthropods (Marrellomorpha), Palaeoscolecid worms and trilobites. Credit: Emmanuel Martin

Discoveries at a major new fossil site in Morocco indicate that giant arthropods – relatives of modern creatures including shrimp, insects and spiders – dominated the seas 470 million years ago.

Early evidence from the site of Taichoute, once undersea but now desert, records many large “free-swimming” arthropods.

More research is needed to analyze these parts, but based on previously described specimens, giant arthropods can reach up to 2 meters in length.

An international research team says the site and its fossil record are very different from others previously described and studied in the Vizuata shale from 80 kilometers away.

They say Taichoute (considered part of the broader “Fezouata Biota”) opens up new avenues for research in paleontology and ecology.

“Everything is new in this region—sedimentology, paleontology, even fossil preservation—which further highlights the vital importance of the Vzuzata in completing our understanding of past life on Earth,” said lead author Dr. Fareed Salih, from the university. from the University of Lausanne and Yunnan.

Dr Xiaoya Ma, from the University of Exeter and Yunnan University, added: “While the giant arthropods we have discovered are not yet fully identified, some of them may belong to previously described species of Vishuata, and some will certainly be a new species.

Fossil site reveals that giant arthropods dominated the seas 470 million years ago

Large fragments of neonicotinoid arthropods. Credit: Bertrand Lefevre

“However, their large size and free-spirited lifestyle suggests that they played a unique role in these ecosystems.”

The Vezawata Rock was recently selected as one of the 100 most important geological sites worldwide due to its importance in understanding evolution during the Early Ordovician period, about 470 million years ago.

Fossils discovered in these rocks include mineralized elements (such as shells), but some also show exceptional protection of soft parts such as internal organs, allowing scientists to investigate the anatomy of early animal life on Earth.

The animals of the Vzuata rock bird lived in the Zagora region of Morocco in a shallow sea that suffered from frequent storms and waves that buried the animal communities and preserved them in their place as exceptional fossils.

Nonetheless, the nektonic (or free-swimming) fauna remains an overall relatively minor component of the Vizuata biota.

The new study reports the discovery of Taichoute fossils, preserved in sediments a few million years younger than those in the Zagora region and dominated by fragments of giant arthropods.

Fossil site reveals that giant arthropods dominated the seas 470 million years ago

Newly discovered site of the Vizuata rock. Credit: Bertrand Lefevre

“The bodies were transported into a relatively deep marine environment by underwater landslides, which contrasts with previous discoveries of the preservation of bodies in shallow places, which were buried in place by storm sediments,” said Dr. Romain Foucher of the University of Lausanne.

Professor Alison Daly, from the University of Lausanne, added: “Animals such as brachiopods were found attached to some arthropod fragments, suggesting that these large shields acted as nutrient stores for the seafloor-dwelling community once they died and lay on the sea floor.”

Dr Lukas Leibel, of the Czech Academy of Sciences, who had the opportunity to participate in the initial fieldwork, said, “Taychote is not only important because of the dominance of large nektonite arthropods.

“Even when it comes to trilobites, new, hitherto unknown species of vizoata biota exist in Taychote.”

“Vizoata cacti continue to surprise us with new, unexpected discoveries,” concluded Dr. Bertrand Lefebvre, of the University of Lyon, senior author on the paper, who has been working on vizoata biota for the past two decades.

The paper published in the journal Scientific reportstitled: “New Fossil Groups from Early Ordovician Life at Vezawata”.

more information:
New Fossil Collections of Early Ordovician Life at Vzuzata, Scientific reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-25000-z

Provided by the University of Exeter

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