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Data associated with Aragones and Leys - "The sponge pump as a morphological character in the fossil record"

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  • The timing of early animal evolution remains one of the biggest conundrums in biology. Molecular data suggest Porifera diverged from the metazoan lineage some 800 Ma to 650 Ma, which contrasts with the earliest widely accepted fossils of sponges at 535 Ma. However, the lack of criteria by which to recognize the earliest animals in the fossil record presents a challenge. The sponge body plan is unchanged since the early Cambrian, which makes a sponge-type animal a good candidate for the earliest fossils. Here we propose a method for identifying an organism as sponge-grade, by translating the sponge pump character into a quantifiable morphological trait. We show that the ratio between the two major components of the aquiferous system, the cross-sectional area of the osculum (OSA), and the surface area of the whole sponge (SA), is an effective metric of the pump character of extant sponges, and that the slope of this ratio is distinct for three classes of Porifera: Demospongiae, Calcarea and Hexactinellida. Furthermore, this metric is effective at distinguishing as sponges, extant taxa and fossils from two extremes of the Phanerozoic, the Cambrian and Paleogene. We tested this metric on the putative Ediacaran sponge Thectardis avalonensis from Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, and found Thectardis fits both with Cambrian sponges and with modern demosponges. These analyses show that the OSA/SA ratio is a reliable character by which to identify fossils as sponge-grade, opening up exciting possibilities for classifying new fossils as sponges.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International