Cap-shaped skeletal fossils are the earliest undisputed body fossils of mollusks appearing in the basal Cambrian. A study on the morphometry of cap-shaped fossils from the Nanjiang area (North Sichuan, China) is undertaken to understand the origin and evolution of the early mollusks. The distribution of these fossil cap-shaped mollusks indicates a stepwise increase in their diversity during the early Cambrian. Maikhanella Zhegallo in Voronin et al., 1982 co-occuring with the spinose sclerites of siphogonuchitids, is regarded as the earliest scleritized mollusk. It is followed by other maikhanellids, e.g., Purella Missarzhevsky, 1974 and Yunnanopleura Yu, 1987, which co-occur with the earliest univalved helcionellids, e.g., Igorella Missarzhevsky in Rozanov et al., 1969. Cluster analysis of their morphometric characteristics shows that the Maikhanella group is similar to the Purella and Yunnanopleura groups, but is less comparable with univalved helcionellids. The maikhanellids are interpreted as representatives of the stem group Aculifera, although it remains uncertain if one or two larger cap-shaped shell plates were present on the elongate slug-like body, comparable to those of Halkieria Poulsen, 1967 or Orthrozanclus Conway Morris and Caron, 2007. Maikhanellids are characterized by the prominent protrusions or scales on the cap-shaped shell plates arranged in a concentric pattern around the shell apex. Evolutionarily, the protrusions or scales are reduced in younger strata, whereas subsequently a typically concentric ornament developed, the cap-shaped shell plates developed higher profiles, and the apical region became increasingly bare of scales. Meanwhile, the cap-shaped shell plates gradually evolved into a helcionellid-like appearance with an anteroposteriorly inclined apex. The morphological evolution of the earliest sclerotized mollusks reflects biotic evolution and environmental adaption among the stem-group mollusks during the early Cambrian.

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