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The oldest-known metazoan parasite?

  • Michael G. Bassett (a1), Leonid E. Popov (a1) and Lars E. Holmer (a2)
Extract

A unique specimen of the micromorphic fossil lingulate (organophosphatic-shelled) brachiopod Linnarssonia constans Koneva, 1983 from the late Lower Cambrian Shabakty Group of the Malyi Karatau Range in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, preserves evidence of infestation within the mantle cavity by a vermiform animal, leading to the growth of an internal tubular protuberance (Fig. 1) resulting from symbiosis some 520 million years ago. Examples of symbiotic relationships between metazoans in the early Paleozoic are sparse (Conway Morris, 1981, 1990; Conway Morris and Crompton, 1982). Descriptions of a variety of galls and tumorlike swellings in some trilobites extend records back to the Middle Cambrian (Conway Morris, 1990), but their interpretation as traces of endoparasitic activity remains somewhat speculative. Thus galllike swellings on the stems of Silurian echinoderms (Franzen, 1974), vermiform tubes on some early Ordovician dendroid graptolites (Conway Morris, 1990), and various tubes and blisters on graptoloid graptolites (see Bates and Loydell, 2000 for review) are among the hitherto earliest known convincing records of host-parasite relationships within metazoans. Our example reported here predates the oldest of these previous records by approximately 35 to 40 million years, and demonstrates that symbiosis involving complex adaptations (e.g., larval settlement on or within living tissue and exploitation of feeding systems of the host) and codependent life cycles were already established soon after the ‘explosive’ evolutionary radiation of marine metazoans in the early Cambrian. The fossil evidence of infestation on lophophorates is especially sparse, at best. The oldest hitherto undoubted records are both from brachiopods of Devonian age, in the Lower Devonian Emsian Stage of eastern Australia and in the Middle Devonian Givetian Stage of the Holy Cross Mountains in Poland, respectively.

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Journal of Paleontology
  • ISSN: 0022-3360
  • EISSN: 1937-2337
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