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Morrison Nolan and Dr. Sally Walker new publication in Paleontology and Evolutionary Science.


Paleontology and Evolutionary Science:  "Is the middle Cambrian Brooksella a hexactinellid sponge, trace fossil or pseudofossil?"



Morrison R. Nolan
Department of Geosciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, VA, USA

Sally E. Walker
Department of Geology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-2501, USA

Tara Selly and James Schiffbauer
X-ray Microanalysis Core Facility, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA
Department of Geological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA



First described as a medusoid jellyfish, the “star-shaped” Brooksella from the Conasauga shale Lagerstätten, Southeastern USA, was variously reconsidered as algae, feeding traces, gas bubbles, and most recently hexactinellid sponges. In this work, we present new morphological, chemical, and structural data to evaluate its hexactinellid affinities, as well as whether it could be a trace fossil or pseudofossil. External and cross-sectional surfaces, thin sections, X-ray computed tomography (CT) and micro-CT imaging, revealed no evidence that Brooksella is a hexactinellid sponge or a trace fossil. Although internally Brooksella contains abundant voids and variously orientated tubes consistent with multiple burrowing or bioeroding organisms, these structures have no relation to Brooksella’s external lobe-like morphology. Furthermore, Brooksella has no pattern of growth comparable to the linear growth of early Paleozoic hexactinellids; rather, its growth is similar to syndepositional concretions. Lastly, Brooksella, except for its lobes and occasional central depression, is no different in microstructure to the silica concretions of the Conasauga Formation, strongly indicating it is a morphologically unusual endmember of the silica concretions of the formation. These findings highlight the need for thorough and accurate descriptions in Cambrian paleontology; wherein care must be taken to examine the full range of biotic and abiotic hypotheses for these compelling and unique fossils.

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