Diverse cuticular remains in Cambrian (Series 2) SSF assemblages from China and the pioneer metazoan colonization of offshore environments

Lei Zhang, Shan Chang, Can Chen, Mats E. Eriksson, Qinglai Feng, Michael Steiner, Maliha Zareen Khan, Jean Vannier, Marie Béatrice Forel, Sébastien Clausen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our understanding of the early Cambrian bioradiation is largely driven by the contrasting information obtained from small skeletal fossils (SSF) and various types of exceptionally preserved fossils from different parts of the world. In this study, a new ‘Orsten’-type fossil Lagerstätte is reported from the Cambrian Series 2 upper Shuijingtuo Formation in the eastern Three Gorges area, South China. The Shuijingtuo Formation yielded a range of microscopic fragments of metazoan cuticles as well as fragments of possible epithelial tissue. Seventeen different types of micro-ornamentation patterns are recognized on the surface of these cuticular fragments. Based on comparisons with fossil organisms recorded from coeval strata elsewhere, as well as extant relatives, possible affinities with arthropods, palaeoscolecids, acrotretid brachiopods and mollusks are discussed. This ‘Orsten’-type fossil assemblage was deposited in offshore environments, and the lack of evidence for long-distance transportation indicates that a highly diverse fauna was present in, or very close to, the relatively deep shelf settings in the Three Gorges area during the early Cambrian (Epoch 2, Age 3). The invasion of metazoans into deeper, offshore environments could have closely followed, or even been coeval, with their radiation in relatively shallow water settings. Thus, albeit highly fragmented, such cuticular fossils can aid in providing a more complete picture of the Cambrian bioradiation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110192
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (grants 41972024 , 41430101 , 41502014 , 41890843 ). We thank Wei Guo and Yuhao Yi for their help with SEM work. Prof. Yunhuan Liu and Dr. Ben Yang are acknowledged for their detailed guidance during the chemical processes. Dr. Min Shi, Tao Dai, Deng Wang and Zhiliang Zhang are acknowledged for constructive discussions during the preparation of the manuscript. Special thanks are due to two anonymous reviewers for their constructive remarks on the manuscript. We thank the editor Prof. Thomas Algeo for editorial input.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Geology


  • cuticle
  • Lagerstätte
  • micro-ornamentation
  • Shuijingtuo Formation
  • ‘Orsten’-type


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