Radiolarian, as a group of siliceous skeleton-bearing heterotrophic protist, has a long history from modern ocean back to the Cambrian. The earliest stage in the evolution of radiolarians, although poorly understood, is important not only for itself but also with respect to the development of the global silica cycle and biogenetic siliceous sediments. It has been hypothesized that radiolarians evolved from an ancestral form constructed by spicules, although this is not without controversy since origin and their early morphology is still in dispute. However, the record of Cambrian radiolarians, especially the early Cambrian, is still sparse. Here we report a research in chert of the Liuchapo Formation from the latest Ediacaran to early Cambrian in South China that yielded the most probable oldest radiolarians from deep-water settings. Accompanied fossils and stratigraphic correlation indicate a Fortunian age. Judging by the prominent concentric multilayered shell and absence of spicules, the fossils were classified into the order Spumellaria according to the advance of radiolarian taxonomy and phylogeny. They can be compared with radiolarians from Series 2 to Furongian of the Cambrian. Molecular study conducted here also supports the existence of spumellarian during the Cambrian. Together with other reports of Cambrian radiolarians in recent years, the occurrence of non-spicule forms predates the ones constructed by spicules, which do not support the previous assumption about primitive radiolarian. The discovery not only added to the sparse fossils record of the Cambrian radiolarian, but also demonstrated their contribution to silica cycle and siliceous sediments. Evolution of early radiolarians still subjects to open discussion and awaits more evidence.
- Molecular phylogeny