Most Intense Burst of Evolution Ever Seen: Fossil Secret May Shed Light on Origins of Many of Earth’s First Animals

Burgess Shale Area of British Columbia

Drs. Minter and Bath Enright, of the University of Portsmouth’s School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, studied the Burgess Shale area of British Columbia, both on location in the field and with laboratory experiments. Credit: Dr. Orla Bath Enright

A large group of iconic fossils widely believed to shed light on the origins of many of Earth’s animals and the communities they lived in may be hiding a secret.

Scientists, led by two from the University of Portsmouth, UK, are the first to model how exceptionally well preserved fossils that record the largest and most intense burst of evolution ever seen could have been moved by mudflows.

The finding, published in Communications Earth & Environment, offers a cautionary note on how palaeontologists build a picture from the remains of the creatures they study.

Until now, it has been widely accepted the fossils buried in mudflows in the Burgess Shale in Canada that show the result of the Cambrian explosion 505 million years ago had all lived together but that’s now in doubt.

The Cambrian explosion was responsible for kick-starting the huge diversity of animal life now seen on the planet.

Now, Dr. Nic Minter and Dr. Orla Bath Enright have found that some of the animals which became fossils could have remained well preserved even after being carried large distances, throwing doubt on the idea the creatures all lived together.

Burgess Shale

Drs. Minter and Bath Enright, of the University of Portsmouth’s School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, studied the Burgess Shale area of British Columbia, both on location in the field and with laboratory experiments. Credit: Dr. Orla Bath Enright

Dr. Minter said: “This finding might surprise scientists or lead to them striking a more cautionary tone in how they interpret early marine ecosystems from half a billion years ago.

“It has been assumed that because the Burgess Shale fossils are so well preserved, they couldn’t have been transported over large distances. However, this new research shows that the general type of flow responsible for the deposits in which they were buried does not cause further damage to deceased animals. This means the fossils found in individual layers of sediment, and assumed to represent animal communities, could actually have been living far apart in distance.”

Drs Minter and Bath Enright, of the University of Portsmouth’s School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, studied the Burgess Shale area of British Columbia, both on location in the field and with laboratory experiments.

The site is an area rich in fossils entombed in the deposits of mudflows and is one of the world’s most important fossil sites, with more than 65,000 specimens already collected and, so far, more than 120 species counted.

The Burgess Shale area has been fundamental to scientists in understanding the origins of animal groups and the communities they lived among and has been closely studied multiple times.

The researchers, together with collaborators from the Universities of Southampton and Saskatchewan in Canada, used fieldwork to identify how the mudflows would have behaved, and then used flume tank laboratory tests to mimic the mudflows and are confident that the bodies of certain creatures could have been moved over tens of kilometers without damage, creating the illusion of animal communities which never existed.

The Burgess Shale was discovered in the early 1900s and led to the idea of the ‘Cambrian explosion’ of life, with the appearance of animals representing almost all the modern phyla, and inspiring copious research and discoveries.

Dr. Bath Enright said: “Many would argue that it is fundamental, even ground zero for scientists in understanding the diversity of life.”

It’s not known precisely what caused the mudflows which buried and moved the animals which became fossilized, but the area was subject to multiple flows, causing well-preserved fossils to be found at many different levels in the shale.

“We don’t know over what kind of overall time frame these many flows happened, but we know each one produced an ‘event bed’ that we see today stacked up on top of one another. These flows could pick up animals from multiple places as they moved across the seafloor and then dropped them all together in one place,” said Dr. Bath Enright.

“When we see multiple species accumulated together it can give the illusion we are seeing a single community. But we argue that an individual ‘event bed’ could be the product of several communities of animals being picked up from multiple places by a mudflow and then deposited together to give what looks like a much more complicated single community of animals.

“Palaeontologists need to appreciate the nature of the sediments that fossils are preserved within and what the implications of that are. We could be overestimating the complexity of early marine animal communities and therefore the patterns and drivers of evolution that have led to our present day diversity and complexity.”

The researchers hope to do further study to investigate whether differences in the species that are present in other fossil sites are due to evolutionary changes through time or the nature of the flows and the effects of transport and preservation of the fossils.

Reference: “Flume experiments reveal flows in the Burgess Shale can sample and transport organisms across substantial distances” by Orla G. Bath Enright, Nicholas J. Minter, Esther J. Sumner, M. Gabriela Mángano and Luis A. Buatois, 2 June 2021, Communications Earth and Environment.
DOI: 10.1038/s43247-021-00176-w

19 Comments on "Most Intense Burst of Evolution Ever Seen: Fossil Secret May Shed Light on Origins of Many of Earth’s First Animals"

  1. Dr. Ken Towe | June 3, 2021 at 4:55 am | Reply

    “It has been assumed that because the Burgess Shale fossils are so well preserved, they couldn’t have been transported over large distances.”
    That appears to be a “straw man” argument. Few paleontolgists have made that assumption. The preservation is the result of an event that produced anaerobic conditions that wiped out the oxygen requiring aerobic bacteria that usually oxidize the organic matter leaving shells and other hard parts. Moving these well-preserved animals from elsewhere will still require an explanation for their excellent preservation.

  2. Dr. Richard C Gorgo Jr. | June 4, 2021 at 3:56 am | Reply

    Ummm can anyone say Flood..

  3. Ever wondered if the diverse amount of animals was actually the result of a flood?

    If it’s thought that a mudflow brought them all together, then why not the biblical flood?

    Science and the Bible don’t have to be at odds. In fact, even though the Bible wasn’t written to be a scientific text book, you will find that every instance where it is called for, science agrees with Bible understanding.
    Eg.
    Earth round.
    Earth suspended in space.
    Water cycle (hydrologic)
    ‘Skin of the teeth’
    … I could go on. All these and more proofs

    So why not the flood too?

    Go to JW.ORG and search ‘Flood’ or even ‘Was it designed?’.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts.

  4. There is a chinese cambrian location. Curious to know why it’s not mentioned here. There is a chinese scientist who has done great work interpreting the remains. He states the darwinian tree branching out from “simple” to complex is not what the facts support. Rather He says the EVIDENCE shows an existing row of hedges with phyla fully formed for their particular niche in the environment(s). He makes a profound social observation saying “in china you can criticize darwin but not the government. In america you can criticize the government but you can not criticize darwin”. Think about that. This sliding mud pie research is another example of how the belief behavior of darwinianzealots waste time on wish fulfillment. Please study the piltdown fraud and you will see the where all this missing link skulduggery came. from. Every evolutionary anthropology dept set up in every university is an intellectual & $$$$ fraud. Study the sequence of creation days described in the book of Genesis. Compare it to the darwinian sequence of creation eons. Expand

  5. Ha,ha,ha,ha. The Burgess Shale certainly is a problem. Maybe it was transported there by aliens. Better find something to adjust the empirical evidence to fit the narrative.

  6. Wait for it, as they say; when looking for answers to questions.

  7. Nitpicking ! Trying to raise trivial point ! Begging for more questions than trying to explain biodiversity of Early and mid Cambrian!

  8. Anthony King Padgett | June 6, 2021 at 2:35 pm | Reply

    What nonsense. Dig in the mud and draw specific conclusions about what happened 500 million years ago. Get real. The cambrian explosion itself is huge evidence against evolution and your millions of years philosophy is not supported by real empirical science.

  9. Nothing evolved. But God created many wonderful things in this amazing universe! God is truly great! Thank you, Lord, for creating so many wonderful creatures and wonderful mysteries that we hope to solve so that we may continue to give you credit for these awesome works!

  10. Evolution and adaptation would would be techniques more than first principles and I have no quibbles with such findings. Styles and techniques are things of creators and if we are made in the image and likeness of God I can reverse engineer the concept that God creates as we do. Gerald L. Schroeder, James Tour, Anthony Flew, Fred Hoyle.
    From the second factor that influenced Anthony Flew “…I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint…The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical.” As James Tour demonstrates, chemicals have no mechanism to spontaneously become living, reproducing organisms. Fred Hoyle, analizing the formation of carbon, concluded that there was no possibility that it happened by chance. After chance is ruled out, does it really matter if it 400 billion years or 500 or 6oo billion or whether they lived in successive periods, it interests me greatly as does all scientific theory and discovery. Let’s start with a reasonable scientific explanation of origin of life; reasonable meaning demonstrated, proven.

  11. If by species jumping, you mean “evolution” there is still 0 evidence for that, even 160 years after Darwins “fiction”. I’m still amazed when this is continually stated as fact. Intelligent design is the only and logical explanation. A great documentary on this is entitled “Darwin’s Dilemma” .

  12. CaliforniaUnderWater | June 8, 2021 at 2:29 am | Reply

    Genesis chapter 1 tells us all about the origins of everything for the last 6,000+ years from Adam by word of mouth to his children down to Moses who put it in writing.

  13. Evan Gelical | June 8, 2021 at 10:03 am | Reply

    Kickstart huh? Evilution huh? Let me tell you the Truth. The wide diversity of life was created on the 5th & 6th day of Creation and Humans on the 6th. Life just doesn’t appear without being created. Life doesn’t come from non-life. The devil is constantly trying to trick and fool ppl and he has been doing a wonderful job and getting ppl to not believe in the One True GOD Jesus Christ. Who is coming back very soon

  14. Thomas Naas | June 8, 2021 at 4:30 pm | Reply

    Many of the comments demonstrate how fundamental religious belief is the greatest source of ignorance and disinformation in the world today,not to mention the hatred and xenophobia it instills in some of it’s adherents.

  15. Anne Hardy Payne, M.Ed. | June 8, 2021 at 7:31 pm | Reply

    I appreciate all the above comments. As a Christian, obviously, I believe in God’s Creation of the Universe. As several individuals previously stated, the Bible, indeed, does align with the theories provided by the scientists. The parts of the puzzle of Creation and evolution fit together like a puzzle. Those who cannot visualize this reality need to
    analyze their spiritual and academic foundations, in my opinion. Trolls need not respond. Perhaps, we need to simply agree to disagree.

  16. Création is non sense.
    Evolution is obvious for any normal non endoctrinated human

  17. Remember one thing everything you say and do at any point in our life must be for the glory of God. I did enjoy reading everybody’s comments.

  18. Evolution is the ultimate endoctrinator of humankind.

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