The origin of annelids

Luke Parry, Alastair Tanner, Jakob Vinther*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

70 Citations (Scopus)


Annelids are a phylum of segmented bilaterian animals that have become important components of ecosystems spanning terrestrial realms to the deep sea. Annelids are remarkably diverse, possessing high taxonomic diversity and exceptional morphological disparity, and have evolved numerous feeding strategies and ecologies. Their interrelationships and evolution have been the source of much controversy over the past century with the composition of the annelid crown group, the relationship of major groups and the body plan of the ancestral annelid having undergone major recent revisions. There is a convincing body of molecular evidence that polychaetes form a paraphyletic grade and that clitellates are derived polychaetes. The earliest stem group annelids from Cambrian Lagerstätten are errant, epibenthic polychaetes, confirming that biramous parapodia, head appendages and diverse, simple chaetae are primitive for annelids. Current evidence from molecular clocks and the fossil record suggest that crown group annelids are a Late Cambrian - Ordovician radiation, with clitellates radiating in the Late Palaeozoic. Their body fossil record is largely confined to deposits showing exceptional preservation and is punctuated by the acquisition of hard parts in major groups. The discovery of an Ordovician fossil with soft tissues has shown that machaeridians are in fact a clade of crown polychaetes. They were in existence for more than 200 million years and possess unique calcitic dorsal armour, allowing their mode of life and phylogeny to be interpreted in the context of the annelid body plan. We identify a novel clade of machaeridians, the Cuniculepadida, which exhibit a series of adaptations for burrowing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1091-1103
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Annelida
  • Clitellata
  • Cuniculepadida
  • Machaeridia
  • Polychaeta


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