Many marine invertebrates have a complex life cycle in which the egg develops into an intermediate planktic larval form rather than developing directly to the benthic juvenile stage. Because of the evolutionary and ecological complexity of pelagic-benthic life cycles, the reasons behind the origin of larvae and their subsequent maintenance over geological time are not well understood. Using both a molecular clock and the fossil record, I show that the initial exploitation of the predator-free pelagic realm by lecithotrophic larvae was achieved independently multiple times by the end of the Early Cambrian, and that the convergent evolution of planktotrophy from lecithotrophic ancestors evolved between the latest Cambrian and Middle Ordovician at least four, and possibly as many as eight, times. Both the exploitation of the pelagic realm by nonfeeding larvae and the acquisition of planktotrophy correlate in time with novel modes of benthic predation, including the dramatic rise in the number and type of epifaunal suspension feeders in the Early Ordovician.

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