Abstract

Early Cambrian corals from South Australia have been found within fossil reefs of unusual biological and paleoecological composition. The framework of these reefs is composed of a diverse assemblage of calcareous sponges (e.g., archaeocyaths and sphinctozoans), calci-microbes, and at least two species of coral-like organisms, one of which is first reported herein and bears similarities to younger Paleozoic tabulate corals. Complex growth interactions occur among these organisms, suggesting that space was a limiting factor in Early Cambrian reef ecosystems, as it is today in modern scleractinian reefs. In striking contrast to most Early Cambrian archaeocyath-calcimicrobe reefs, these South Australian reefs flourished within energetic, mixed silici-clastic-carbonate shallow-marine environments along the margins of arid, coarse-grained, sea-marginal alluvial fans. The implications of these coral-bearing reefs are multifold. First, their existence not only extends the range of tabulatelike corals to the Botomian (middle Early Cambrian), but it adds an additional clade of participants to the Early Cambrian metazoan radiation event. Second, the existence of Botomian-aged skeletonized colonial cnidarians necessitates an earliest Cambrian or Neoproterozoic ancestor for the group. Third, the presence of tabulatelike corals and their involvement in reef building prior to the Toyonian extinction (late Early Cambrian) challenges hypotheses (e.g., lack of a suitable reef builder after the extinction of archaeocyaths until the Ordovician) used to explain the paucity of Middle and Late Cambrian reefs worldwide. The presence of these corals on sea-marginal fans contradicts the perception that early reefs were restricted to low-energy, predominantly carbonate subtidal environments.

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