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.

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