Giant Arthropods Dominated Early Ordovician Seas, Paleontologists Say

by johnsmith

Paleontologists have discovered a new marine fossil-bearing locality — part of the Early Ordovician Fezouata Biota — at Taichoute in Morocco. The site, which is 80 km away from previously investigated Fezouata localities, is dominated by three-dimensionally preserved fragments of large arthropods, some of which were up to 2 m long, that lived approximately 470 million years ago.

Reconstruction of a Fezouata Shale seafloor. Image credit: Beraaouz et al., doi: 10.1007/s12371-017-0256-x.

The Fezouata Shale, in Morocco’s Zagora region, was recently selected as one of the 100 most important geological sites worldwide because of its importance for understanding the evolution during the Early Ordovician period, about 470 million years ago.

Fossils discovered in these rocks include mineralized elements (e.g. shells), but some also show exceptional preservation of soft parts such as internal organs, allowing paleontologists to investigate the anatomy of early animal life on Earth.

Animals of the Fezouata Shale, lived in a shallow sea that experienced repeated storm and wave activities, which buried the animal communities and preserved them in place as exceptional fossils.

However, nektonic (free-swimming) animals remain a relatively minor component overall in the Fezouata Biota.

The newly-discovered Taichoute fossils are preserved in sediments that are a few million years younger than those from the Zagora area and are dominated by fragments of giant arthropods.

Fossils from the Taichoute locality. Image credit: Saleh et al., doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-25000-z.

“Everything is new about this locality — its sedimentology, paleontology, and even the preservation of fossils — further highlighting the importance of the Fezouata Biota in completing our understanding of past life on Earth,” said Dr. Farid Saleh, a paleontologist at the University of Lausanne and Yunnan University.

“While the giant arthropods we discovered have not yet been fully identified, some may belong to previously described species of the Fezouata Biota, and some will certainly be new species,” added Dr. Xiaoya Ma, a paleontologist at the University of Exeter and Yunnan University.

“Nevertheless, their large size and free-swimming lifestyle suggest they played a unique role in these ecosystems.”

“Taichoute is not only important due to the dominance of large nektonic arthropods,” said Dr. Lukáš Laibl, a paleontologist with the Czech Academy of Sciences.

“Even when it comes to trilobites, new species so far unknown from the Fezouata Biota are found in Taichoute.”

“The Fezouata Biota keeps surprising us with new unexpected discoveries,” said Dr. Bertrand Lefebvre, a paleontologist at the University of Lyon.

The team’s paper is published in the journal Scientific Reports.


F. Saleh et al. 2022. New fossil assemblages from the Early Ordovician Fezouata Biota. Sci Rep 12, 20773; doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-25000-z

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