The novel fossil record that has emerged proves that the first major extinction was due to ecosystem engineers. These were biological organisms that transformed the environment till it stopped supporting previous life forms.
The new fossils found in Namibia support the fact that the world’s first mass extinction occurred due to ecosystem engineers. These were the so-called new kids on the block as far as biological organisms were concerned.
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They managed to radically change the environment to the extent that the older species simply vanished from the face of the earth.
The occurrence is termed the end-Ediacaran extinction. It transpired 540 million years ago. The first life forms on earth were nothing but microbes. These consisted of unicellular organisms.
They maintained their hegemony for 3 billion years. Later on the first multi-cellular organisms evolved. The ultimate survivors from these were the Ediacarans.
They penetrated throughout the planet some 600 million years ago. They remained static most of the time and came in a number of interesting shapes.
These included: discs, tubes, fronds and intertwined bed-like materials. After another 60 million years, metazoans came on the scene. These were the world’s first animals.
These metazoans could move about from one place to another during portions of their life span. Also they fed on other organisms as well as the products secreted by these other organisms.
There was a sudden explosion of diversity. This is the by-now well-known Cambrian explosion. During the 25 million years or so of extreme creativity in matters having to do with life forms, most of the modern animals developed in a colorful and rapid frenzy.
These included: vertebrates, mollusks, arthropods, annelids, sponges and jellyfish. These novel species were termed ecosystem engineers. That was because they changed the environment to the extent that life became a difficult affair for the Ediacarans.
There was in fact a form of symbiosis for awhile between the Ediacarans and these novel animals. This is a fact that was not known before this recent study which proves that there existed some degree of cooperation between the two antagonists.
Novel fossils from Namibia included soft-bodied Ediacara biota, mysterious tubular beings and vertically oriented metazoan trace fossils. The tracemakers were linked to a cone-like organism called Conichnus.
The sharing of the environment between the Ediacarans and the animal shows us that they interacted for awhile. As the animal kingdom got going thanks to the novel species in the Cambrian Era, the Ediacarans held on for dear life but just couldn’t make it.
Like the dinosaurs gave way to the mammals, the Ediacarans also paved the way for the animal species of today.
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This new study described in the paper titled "A mixed Ediacaran-metazoan assemblage from the Zaris Sub-basin, Namibia," published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.