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Palaeontology of sponges — a review

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The fossil record of sponges is a very old one, and begins in the Precambrian, but is rather incomplete. Only those sponges with a rigid skeleton, i.e., Hexactinosida and Lychniscosida (both hexactinellids), lithistids (demosponges with desmas), and sponges with a massive calcareous skeleton (polyphyletic demosponges and Calcarea) have a more or less continuous fossil record that is, however, inadequately studied, especially from the Tertiary. The beginning of sponge diversification during the Cambrian is relatively well known thanks to their very good preservation, from the Chengjiang fauna in China and Burgess Shale in Canada, where even sponges with unfused spicules occur. The majority of palaeontologic studies are concerned with taxonomic aspects of fossil sponge faunas, but investigations of the microstructure of the calcareous skeleton, of phylogeny (especially of the early forms), and of various aspects of their ecology have produced important results. Future research still has to fill gaps in the knowledge of fossil faunas, especially "soft" sponges, and in the phylogeny of sponges (especially for the polyphyletic groups like lithistids), but new approaches such as studies of biomarkers are already emerging.

L'histoire des fossiles d'éponges remonte à très loin et débute au Précambrien, mais elle est plutôt incomplète. Seules les éponges à squelette rigide, c.-à-d. les Hexactinosida et les Lychniscosida (tous deux des hexactinelles), les lithistides (des démosponges avec desmas) et les éponges à squelette calcaire massif (des démosponges polyphylétiques et Calcarea), sont représentées par une série de fossiles plus ou moins continue, bien que ces fossiles soient encore imparfaitement étudiés, particulièrement ceux du tertiaire. Le début de la diversification des éponges durant le Cambrien est relativement bien connu grâce à des fossiles très bien conservés dans la faune de Chengjiang en Chine et des schistes de Burgess au Canada, où il y a même des éponges à spicules non fusionnés. La plupart des études paléontologiques s'intéressent aux aspects taxonomiques des faunes d'éponges fossiles, mais il y a des découvertes importantes dans les domaines de la microstructure des squelettes calcaires, de la phylogénie (particulièrement des formes primitives) et de divers aspects écologiques. Les études futures devront combler les lacunes dans la connaissance des faunes fossiles, particulièrement d'éponges « molles », et dans la phylogénie des éponges (particulièrement celle des groupes pholyphylétiques, comme les lithistides); de nouvelles méthodologies, dont celle de l'étude des biomarqueurs, font déjà leur apparition.[Traduit par la Rédaction]

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2006

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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