The Tonian Period (ca. 1000–720 Ma) follows the ‘boring billion' in the Mesoproterozoic Era and precedes ‘snowball Earth' glaciations in the Cryogenian Period. It represents a critical transition in Earth history. Geochemical data indicate that the Tonian Period may have witnessed a significant increase in atmospheric pO2 levels and a major transition from predominantly sulfidic to ferruginous mid-depth seawaters. Molecular clock estimates suggest that early animals may have diverged in the Tonian Period, raising the intriguing possibility of coupled environmental changes and evolutionary innovations. The co-evolution of life and its environment during the Tonian Period can be tested against the fossil record by examining diversity trends in the Proterozoic and evolutionary innovations in the Tonian. Compilations of Proterozoic microfossils and macrofossils apparently support a Tonian increase in global taxonomic diversity and morphological range relative to the Mesoproterozoic Era, although this is not reflected in assemblage-level diversity patterns. The fossil record suggests that major eukaryote groups (including Opisthokonta, Amoebozoa, Plantae, and SAR) may have diverged and important evolutionary innovations (e.g. multicellularity and cell differentiation in several groups, eukaryovory, eukaryote biomineralization, and heterocystous cyanobacteria) may have arisen by the Tonian Period, but thus far no convincing animal fossils have been found in the Tonian. Tonian paleontology is still in its nascent stage, and it offers many opportunities to explore Earth-life evolution in this critical geological period.
After the boring billion and before the freezing millions: evolutionary patterns and innovations in the Tonian Period
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Timothy W. Lyons, Mary L. Droser, Kimberly V. Lau, Susannah M. Porter, Shuhai Xiao, Qing Tang; After the boring billion and before the freezing millions: evolutionary patterns and innovations in the Tonian Period. Emerg Top Life Sci 28 September 2018; 2 (2): 161–171. doi: https://doi.org/10.1042/ETLS20170165
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