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8 March 2013 Nectocaridid ecology, diversity, and affinity: early origin of a cephalopod-like body plan
Martin R. Smith
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Nectocaridids are soft-bodied early to middle Cambrian organisms known from Burgess Shale-type deposits in Canada, China, and Australia. Originally described as unrelated species, they have recently been interpreted as a clade; their flexible tentacles, camera-type eyes, lateral fins, internal gills, axial cavity, and funnel point to a relationship with the cephalopods. However, aspects of this reinterpretation, including the relevance of the group to cephalopod evolution, have been called into question.

Here, I examine new and existing nectocaridid material, including a large new form that may represent a sexual dimorph of Nectocaris pteryx. Differences between existing taxa largely represent taphonomic variation between sites and specimens—which provides further constraint on the organisms' anatomy. I revise the morphology of the tentacles and fins, and describe mouthparts and phosphatized gills for the first time. A mathematical analysis supports the presence of the earliest known camera-type eyes, and fluid mechanical considerations suggest that the funnel is optimized for efficient jet propulsion in a low Reynolds number flow regime.

Nectocaridids closely resemble coleoid cephalopods, but a position deeper within Cephalopoda raises fewer stratigraphic challenges. Whether its coleoid-like construction reflects common ancestry or profound convergence, the Nectocaris body plan adds substantially to Cambrian disparity, demonstrating the rapid colonization of nektobenthic niches after the Cambrian explosion.

Martin R. Smith "Nectocaridid ecology, diversity, and affinity: early origin of a cephalopod-like body plan," Paleobiology 39(2), 297-321, (8 March 2013).
Accepted: 1 December 2012; Published: 8 March 2013
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