Abstract

The Ediacaran-Cambrian cloudinomorphs, which include Cloudina, are the first putative skeletal metazoans. They have a benthic ecology and tubular, organic, or biomineralized stacked funnel morphologies but an unresolved phylogenetic affinity. Rare dichotomous branching has been described in Cloudina, but here we demonstrate the presence of multiple (polytomous), dichotomous branching in cloudinomorphs from a microbial mat community from the Nama Group, Namibia, as revealed by three-dimensional models created from serial sections. Branches share an open, central cavity, and branching is achieved via external budding. These cloudinomorphs show attachment and mutual cementation to each other, and also to Namacalathus, via extratubular skeletal structures to potentially form a horizontal framework. Polytomous branching excludes a bilaterian affinity as proposed for other cloudinomorphs. This raises the possibility that the Ediacaran tubular, funnel morphology is convergent, and that cloudinomorphs may, in fact, represent taxa of diverse affinity.

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