The beginning of the Phanerozoic saw two biological events that set the stage for all life that was to come: () the Cambrian Explosion (the appearance of most marine invertebrate phyla) and () the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE), the subsequent substantial accumulation of marine biodiversity. Here, we examine the current state of understanding of marine environments and ecosystems from the late Ediacaran through the Early Ordovician, which spans this biologically important interval. Through a compilation and review of the existing geochemical, mineralogical, sedimentological, and fossil records, we argue that this interval was one of sustained low and variable marine oxygen levels that both led to animal extinction and fostered biodiversification events throughout the Cambrian and Early Ordovician. Therefore, marine ecosystems of this interval existed on the edge—with enough oxygen to sustain them but with the perennial risk of environmental stressors that could overwhelm them.

  • ▪  We review the current research on geochemistry and paleontology of the Cambrian and Early Ordovician periods.
  • ▪  Low and oscillating oxygen levels in the marine realm promoted diversification and evolutionary innovation but also drove several extinction events.
  • ▪  Taphonomic modes and marine authigenic pathways that were abundant in the Cambrian were supported by oceans that were persistently less oxygenated than today's oceans.

Expected final online publication date for the , Volume 52 is May 2024. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.


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