Washington, July 28 (ANI): In a new research, scientists have found evidence that the earliest animals on Earth lived in lakes.
Conventional wisdom has it that animal evolution began in the ocean, with animal life adapting much later in Earth history to terrestrial environments.
Now, a UC (University of California) Riverside-led team of researchers, studying ancient rock samples in South China, has found that the first animal fossils in the paleontological record are preserved in ancient lake deposits, not marine sediments as commonly assumed.
"We know that life in the oceans is very different from life in lakes, and, at least in the modern world, the oceans are far more stable and consistent environments compared to lakes which tend to be short-lived features relative to, say, rates of evolution," said Martin Kennedy, a professor of geology in the Department of Earth Sciences who participated in the research.
"Thus it is surprising that the first evidence of animals we find is associated with lakes, a far more variable environment than the ocean," he added.
The study raises questions such as what aspects of the Earth's environment changed to enable animal evolution.
In their research, the authors focused on South China's Doushantuo Formation, one of the oldest fossil beds that houses highly preserved fossils dated to about 600 million years ago.
These beds have no adult fossils. Instead, many of the fossils appear as bundles of cells interpreted to be animal embryos.
"Our first unusual finding in this region was the abundance of a clay mineral called smectite," said lead author Tom Bristow, who worked in Kennedy's lab.
"In rocks of this age, smectite is normally transformed into other types of clay. The smectite in these South China rocks, however, underwent no such transformation and have a special chemistry that, for the smectite to form, requires specific conditions in the water - conditions commonly found in salty, alkaline lakes," he added.
The researchers' work involved collecting hundreds of rock samples from several localities in South China, carrying out mineralogical analysis using X-ray diffraction, and collecting and analyzing other types of geochemical data.
"All our analyses show that the rocks' minerals and geochemistry are not compatible with deposition in seawater," Bristow said.
"Moreover, we found smectite in only some locations in South China, and not uniformly as one would expect for marine deposits. This was an important indicator that the rocks hosting the fossils were not marine in origin. Taken together, several lines of evidence indicated to us that these early animals lived in a lake environment," he added. (ANI)