Quantitative study of developmental biology confirms Dickinsonia as a metazoan

Frances Dunn, Renee Hoekzema, martin Brasier, Alex Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
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The late Ediacaran soft-bodied macroorganism Dickinsonia (age range approx. 560–550 Ma) has often been interpreted as an early animal, and is increasingly invoked in debate on the evolutionary assembly of eumetazoan body plans. However, conclusive positive evidence in support of such a phylogenetic affinity has not been forthcoming. Here we subject a collection of Dickinsonia specimens interpreted to represent multiple ontogenetic stages to a novel, quantitative method for studying growth and develop- ment in organisms with an iterative body plan. Our study demonstrates that Dickinsonia grew via pre-terminal ‘deltoidal’ insertion and inflation of constructional units, followed by a later inflation-dominated phase of growth. This growth model is contrary to the widely held assumption that Dickinsonia grew via terminal addition of units at the end of the organ- ism bearing the smallest units. When considered alongside morphological and behavioural attributes, our developmental data phylogenetically constrain Dickinsonia to the Metazoa, specifically the Eumetazoa plus Placo- zoa total group. Our findings have implications for the use of Dickinsonia in developmental debates surrounding the metazoan acquisition of axis specification and metamerism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1862
Early online date13 Sep 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Sep 2017


  • metazoan evolution
  • bilaterian
  • Ediacaran
  • development
  • ontogeny


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