Butterflies of the Cambrian benthos? Shield position in bradoriid arthropods

Marissa J. Betts, Glenn A. Brock, John R. Paterson

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Mode of preservation and method of recovery strongly influences our understanding of the life habits of extinct organisms. Bradoriid arthropods were abundant, and diverse members of early Cambrian ecosystems and most life reconstructions display these animals with the two shields of the carapace open in a ‘butterfly’ configuration. This favoured reconstruction is largely based on the abundance of ‘crack-out’ specimens preserved in this position (e.g. Kunmingella from the early Cambrian of China). In contrast, large collections of acid processed bradoriids from the Arrowie Basin of South Australia (Cambrian Stage 3) are preserved with a narrow gape at the ventral margin or completely closed with the carapace folded along the dorsal midline. The relative abundance of conjoined, closed (or partially closed) specimens from the lower Cambrian Hawker Group succession suggests that at least some bradoriid taxa were capable of withdrawing appendages and tightly closing the shields, challenging the common view that the majority of bradoriids usually held their carapaces open in a ‘butterfly’ configuration during life. New data show that layers of the bradoriid carapace are continuous through the dorsal fold with no evidence for complex articulating structures as in ostracod hinges. The relatively pliable, sclerotized or lightly mineralized calcium phosphate composition of the carapace and the simple, flexible dorsal fold facilitated opening and closing of the shields. Despite not being closely related, ostracods share close biomechanical and ecological similarities with bradoriids. The evolution of more complex articulating hinge structures – together with well-developed musculature – in ostracods during the Early Ordovician, may have provided more efficient means for shield articulation and movement, thus promoting the ecological success of ostracods throughout the Phanerozoic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-491
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016

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