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Understanding of the triggers and timing of the rise of complex life ca. 720-520 million years ago has expanded dramatically in recent years. This volume brings together diverse and novel geochemical and palaeontological data presented as part of the Royal Society “The origin and rise of complex life: integrating models, geochemical and palaeontological data” discussion meeting held in September 2019. The individual manuscripts offer prescient insights from multiple disciplines. Here we summarise their contribution towards the goal of the meeting; to create testable hypotheses for the differing roles of changing climate, oceanic redox, nutrient availability, and ecosystem feedbacks across this profound, but enigmatic, transitional period.