The history of life on Earth progressed in parallel with the evolving oxygen state of the atmosphere and oceans, but the details of that relationship remain poorly known and debated. There is, however, general agreement that the first appreciable and persistent accumulation of oxygen in the oceans and atmosphere occurred around 2.3 to 2.4 billion years ago. Following this Great Oxidation Event, biospheric oxygen remained at relatively stable intermediate levels for more than a billion years. Much current research focuses on the transition from the intermediate conditions of this middle chapter in Earth history to the more oxygenated periods that followed — often emphasizing whether increasing and perhaps episodic oxygenation drove fundamental steps in the evolution of complex life and, if so, when. These relationships among early organisms and their environments are the thematic threads that stitch together the papers in this collection. Expert authors bring a mix of methods and opinions to their leading-edge reviews of the earliest proliferation and ecological impacts of eukaryotic life, the subsequent emergence and ecological divergence of animals, and the corresponding causes and consequences of environmental change.
Gently inclined strata of the upper Bylot Supergroup in Edwin Inlet, Baffin Island (Canada). Bangiomorpha pubescens, a fossil red alga and the oldest taxonomically resolved eukaryote, occurs in the Bylot Supergroup and equivalent rocks in northeastern Canada. Recent radiometric dating has tightly constrained the first appearance of this fossil to ca. 1045 million years ago. Image kindly provided by Galen Halverson (McGill University), who with his co-authors in this issue, reviews the methods by which the Proterozoic time scale is dated and provide an up-to-date compilation of age constraints on key fossil first and last appearances, geological events, and horizons during the Tonian and Cryogenian periods. Their article also develops a new age model for a ca. 819–740 Ma composite section in Svalbard. For details, see pages 137–147.
Early Earth and the rise of complex life
Timothy W. Lyons, Mary L. Droser, Kimberly V. Lau, Susannah M. Porter, Timothy W. Lyons, Mary L. Droser, Kimberly V. Lau, Susannah M. Porter; Early Earth and the rise of complex life. Emerg Top Life Sci 28 September 2018; 2 (2): 121–124. doi: https://doi.org/10.1042/ETLS20180093
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