Lower Cambrian Biogeography and the Prehistory of Early Animals
SIGNOR, PHILIP W., University of California, Davis, CA
Biogeographic distributions of animals reflect the complex interplay of biological and physical processes acting over geological time. In particular, plate tectonics and the evolution of lineages within clades play fundamental roles in determining faunal distributions. Ranges expand through vicariant events or dispersal and contract through local and regional extinctions. Vicariance promotes the evolutionary divergence of closely related lineages. Viewed as historical phenomena, biogeographic distributions can be employed to infer prior tectonic and evolutionary events. For example, the existence of modern marine faunal provinces reflects the interaction of evolution and plate tectonics.
The biogeographic distribution of skeletogenous animals has been strongly provincial from their earliest appearance in basal Cambrian rocks. Classic Early Cambrian examples are the olenellid and redlichiid trilobite provinces, and other examples include echinoderms, archaeocyathans, and small shelly fossils. The existence of these biogeographic provinces strongly suggests prior evolutionary and vicariant or dispersal events.
The Proterozoic history of skeletogenous organisms (and their ancestors) is a contentious subject, with many authors arguing that skeletogenous clades have no significant prehistory before their appearance in the fossil record. The existence of trilobite provinces dominated by different suborders, for example, suggests the trilobites evolved and dispersed, or were separated by plate movement, and then evolved independently for an extended period prior to their appearance in the fossil record. Similar arguments can be applied to other groups.
The paleobiogeographic distribution of organisms also provides useful insights into late Proterozoic and Early Cambrian paleogeography. The provincial distribution of Early Cambrian taxa suggests that the putative Proterozoic supercontinent, if it existed, began to separate well before the Early Cambrian. Separate provinces would not have evolved had the various plates remained united. Therefore, the dawn of the Phanerozoic could not have coincided with the breakup of the Proterozoic supercontinent.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91009©1991 AAPG-SEPM-SEG-SPWLA Pacific Section Annual Meeting, Bakersfield, California, March 6-8, 1991 (2009)