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Darwin’s dilemma resolved: Biologists measure evolution’s Big Bang

Posted on September 13, 2013
A new study led by Adelaide researchers has estimated, for the first time, the rates of evolution during the “Cambrian explosion” when most modern animal groups appeared between 540 and 520 million years ago.
Biologists measure evolution's Big Bang

This image depicts marine life during the Cambrian explosion (~520 million years ago). A giant Anomalocaris investigates a trilobite, while Opabinia looks on from the right, and the “walking cactus” Diania crawls underneath. All these creatures are related to living arthropods (creatures with exoskeletons and jointed appendages, such as insects, arachnids and crustaceans). Credit: Katrina Kenny & Nobumichi Tamura

The findings, published online today in the journal Current Biology, resolve “Darwin’s dilemma”: the sudden appearance of a plethora of modern animal groups in the fossil record during the early Cambrian period.

“The abrupt appearance of dozens of animal groups during this time is arguably the most important evolutionary event after the origin of life,” says lead author Associate Professor Michael Lee of the University of Adelaide’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the South Australian Museum.

“These seemingly impossibly fast rates of evolution implied by this Cambrian explosion have long been exploited by opponents of evolution. Darwin himself famously considered that this was at odds with the normal evolutionary processes.

“However, because of the notorious imperfection of the ancient fossil record, no-one has been able to accurately measure rates of evolution during this critical interval, often called evolution’s Big Bang.

 

Read more at: Phys.org

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