The Fractofusus, a form of rangeomorphs, had developed a complex reproductive methodology millions of years ago, as attested by well-preserved fossils of the immobile organism.
Illustration of a Fractofusus community. Photo credits: EG Mitchell.
What are the first living organisms to have graced the surface of the Earth with their presence? Some scientists believe rangeomorphs were part of the earliest communities on the planet. They lived around 565 million years ago. A new study, published in Nature Communications, has provided more insight into their lives on Earth, and more specifically on their reproductive methods.
The rangeomorphs looked more like plants than animals; they bore fractal branches that resembled ferns. They were immobile and thus their well-preserved fossils are representative of their entire ecosystems during their lives and after their deaths. Determining the way they grew can easily be done by analysing their clusters.
The new findings showed that they were endowed with extremely complex reproductive capabilities. The genus Fractofusus was studied by the scientists. Its reproductive strategy was determined using a statistical analysis.
As per the distributions of the populations discovered in fossils, the researchers concluded that the rangeomorphs had a two-pronged reproductive approach. The scientists are also positive that it might have been the first organisms to evolve this type of reproduction method.
“Rangeomorphs don’t look like anything else in the fossil record, which is why they’re such a mystery,” lead study author Emily Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, said in a statement. “But we’ve developed a whole new way of looking at them, which has helped us understand them a lot better – most interestingly, how they reproduced.”
Fractofusus would propagate themselves by first ejecting pieces of themselves into the water in a similar way to spores and seeds; the scientists have called this first budding results as “grandparents”. The latter then produced “parents” and “children” using stolons, which are clones bound to each other. The production of “parents” and “children” is believed to have occurred in a rather fast manner. They could be used to colonise new areas, perhaps even sexually.
These steps might have accounted for the ease with which rangeomorphs took over the sea. However, the emergence of mobile creatures quickly eclipsed their presence.