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  1. Abstract

    Evidence of interspecific interactions in the fossil record is rare but offers valuable insights into ancient ecologies. Exceptional fossiliferous sites can preserve complex ecological interactions involving non-biomineralized organisms, but most of these examples are restricted to Cambrian Lagerstätten. Here we report an exceptionally preserved cross-phylum interspecific interaction from the Tremadocian-aged Lower Fezouata Shale Formation of Morocco, which consists of the phragmocone of an orthocone cephalopod that has been extensively populated post-mortem by tubicolous epibionts. Well-preserved transverse bands in a zig-zag pattern and crenulations along the margin of the unbranched tubes indicate that they correspond to pterobranch hemichordates, with a close morphological similarity to rhabdopleurids based on the bush-like growth of the dense tubarium. The discovery of rhabdopleurid epibionts in the Fezouata Shale highlights the paucity of benthic graptolites, which also includes the rooted dendroidsDidymograptusandDictyonema, relative to the substantially more diverse and abundant planktic forms known from this biota. We propose that the rarity of Paleozoic rhabdopleurid epibionts is likely a consequence of their ecological requirement for hard substrates for initial settlement and growth. The Fezouata rhabdopleurid also reveals a 480-million-year-old association of pterobranchs as epibionts of molluscs that persist to the present day.

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  2. Abstract

    Tunicates are an evolutionarily significant subphylum of marine chordates, with their phylogenetic position as the sister-group to Vertebrata making them key to unraveling our own deep time origin. Tunicates greatly vary with regards to morphology, ecology, and life cycle, but little is known about the early evolution of the group, e.g. whether their last common ancestor lived freely in the water column or attached to the seafloor. Additionally, tunicates have a poor fossil record, which includes only one taxon with preserved soft-tissues. Here we describeMegasiphon thylakosnov., a 500-million-year-old tunicate from the Marjum Formation of Utah, which features a barrel-shaped body with two long siphons and prominent longitudinal muscles. The ascidiacean-like body of this new species suggests two alternative hypotheses for early tunicate evolution. The most likely scenario positsM. thylakosbelongs to stem-group Tunicata, suggesting that a biphasic life cycle, with a planktonic larva and a sessile epibenthic adult, is ancestral for this entire subphylum. Alternatively, a position within the crown-group indicates that the divergence between appendicularians and all other tunicates occurred 50 million years earlier than currently estimated based on molecular clocks. Ultimately,M. thylakosdemonstrates that fundamental components of the modern tunicate body plan were already established shortly after the Cambrian Explosion.

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  3. Abstract

    There is a contemporary trend in many major research institutions to de‐emphasize the importance of natural history education in favor of theoretical, laboratory, or simulation‐based research programs. This may take the form of removing biodiversity and field courses from the curriculum and the sometimes subtle maligning of natural history research as a “lesser” branch of science. Additional threats include massive funding cuts to natural history museums and the maintenance of their collections, the extirpation of taxonomists across disciplines, and a critical under‐appreciation of the role that natural history data (and other forms of observational data, including Indigenous knowledge) play in the scientific process. In this paper, we demonstrate that natural history knowledge is integral to any competitive science program through a comprehensive review of the ways in which they continue to shape modern theory and the public perception of science. We do so by reviewing how natural history research has guided the disciplines of ecology, evolution, and conservation and how natural history data are crucial for effective education programs and public policy. We underscore these insights with contemporary case studies, including: how understanding the dynamics of evolutionary radiation relies on natural history data; methods for extracting novel data from museum specimens; insights provided by multi‐decade natural history programs; and how natural history is the most logical venue for creating an informed and scientifically literate society. We conclude with recommendations aimed at students, university faculty, and administrators for integrating and supporting natural history in their mandates. Fundamentally, we are all interested in understanding the natural world, but we can often fall into the habit of abstracting our research away from its natural contexts and complexities. Doing so risks losing sight of entire vistas of new questions and insights in favor of an over‐emphasis on simulated or overly controlled studies.

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