On the trail of giant brachiopods: Gigantoproductus

Neale Monks (UK) Modern brachiopods are rather obscure animals and even their (supposed) common name, ‘lamp shells’, means little to the average amateur naturalist. However, geologists will be much more familiar with them, because brachiopods are among the commonest fossils in sediments of Palaeozoic age, almost right the way through from the Middle Cambrian to the Late Permian. They were sometimes abundant in the Mesozoic as well, particularly during the Jurassic, and may be quite common in some Cainozoic sediments too. But, on the whole, their post-Permian history was one of decline to a role in marine ecosystems far below that of, say, bivalve molluscs or crustaceans. Having said that, brachiopods have always fascinated me because they were survivors. Unlike so many of the superstar fossil groups, like trilobites and ammonites, brachiopods declined but they did not die out. They are not particularly diverse today, but the 350 or so modern species is not a bad tally, and they can be found in all the world’s oceans, from Scottish sea-lochs to the coast of California, from Hong Kong harbour to the rocky shores of Patagonia. They may be bit-part players in contemporary marine ecosystems, but, in their own way, they seem to be very good at what they do, more than holding their own in seas and oceans dramatically different to the Cambrian ones, where they first evolved. While studying for my degree at Aberdeen, I was lucky enough to do a small research project on a modern brachiopod species, … Read More

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