Once More Unto the Evolutionary Breach: Microfossils and the Mesoproterozoic Rise of Complexity

Presenter: Zachary Adam, University of Washington
When: November 5, 2013 3PM PST

The Mesoproterozoic has been referred to as the dullest time in Earth’s history. However, rocks from this period contain some of the earliest evidence available of a leap made across a great evolutionary chasm: the emergence and diversification of eukaryotes in a prokaryote-dominated world. Here we present newly discovered protistan-grade microfossils from the 1.45 billion-year-old Belt Supergroup of Montana. These include forms that grade within and between different morphological groups, providing tentative clues to the reconstruction of ontogenetic, reproductive or ecophenotypic variation signals of the original organisms. This microfossil assemblage and others of similar age present a unique opportunity to explore the emergence, development, ecology and evolutionary biology of some of Earth’s oldest eukaryotes. Precambrian micropaleontology, in conjunction with molecular biomarker, stable isotope and paleoenvironmental data, is critical for assessing the extent to which we may use paleobiology to infer the likelihood of finding complex life on extrasolar planets.

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