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The Ediacaran Weng'an Biota provides a unique window on marine diversity during the interval in which the fundamental animal body plans were being established. Here we describe a previously unreported component of the assemblage, millimeter-scale encysted spheres that exhibit a characteristic but simple slit-shaped excystment mechanism (Sporosphaera guizhouensis n. gen. n. sp.), reminiscent of acritarchs. The cysts contain a large inner body or numerous small discrete membrane-bounded bodies. It is possible that the inner bodies represent disaggregated cells of a multicellular body, like an embryo, but there is no evidence to support this interpretation and the occurrence of the excystment structure is not readily compatible with an embryo interpretation. Rather, we interpret the encysted organisms as multicellular stages within the lifecycle of otherwise probably unicellular eukaryotes. The developmental mode exhibited by Sporosphaera, incorporating a resting stage, implies an adaptation to adverse environmental conditions. This parallels the appearance of Large Ornamented Ediacaran Microfossils (LOEMs) which have been interpreted as diapause stages in the embryology of early animals. Sporosphaera is distinct from LOEMs by ornamentation instead of size, which may implicate that not all LOEMs are animal embryos, if any.
- Weng’an Biota
- excystment mechanism
Data from Landon et al. Cellular preservation of excysting developmental stages of new eukaryotes from the early Ediacaran Weng’an Biota