Archaeocyaths, the first metazoan reef builders of the Phanerozoic, faced their ultimate demise during early Cambrian Age 4 but the exact timing of their local extinctions varied globally. In this study, we report archaeocyaths in strata that overlie the last robust archaeocyathan reefs of the western United States (Laurentian Cordillera). These are found in small microbial mounds in the upper unit of the Mule Spring Limestone near Split Mountain, Clayton Ridge, Nevada, as well as in storm beds in the Thimble Limestone Member of the Carrara Formation in Echo Canyon of the Funeral Mountains, Death Valley, California. Thin-section analysis revealed the presence of modular archaeocyaths, with Archaeocyathus being the only genus present. The small microbial mounds of the lowermost upper unit of the Mule Spring Limestone preserve frame-building Archaeocyathus in situ, a few meters above the well-known Bristolia beds of the Mule Spring Limestone. As some of the youngest known archaeocyaths of the western US, these occurrences represent the last gasp of archaeocyaths in the early Cambrian of Laurentia and one of the latest occurrences globally of archaeocyaths. We thus interpret Archaeocyathus in these units as an example of a dead clade walking—some of the last true archaeocyaths that locally persisted into the later Age 4 Cambrian following the disappearance of diverse archaeocyath reefs in western Laurentia. These last archaeocyath communities exhibited low diversity and disparity before the total extirpation of this reef-building hypercalcified sponge and their ecosystem.

You do not have access to this content, please speak to your institutional administrator if you feel you should have access.