Dr Phil Wilby, BGS
19th April 2017
LIFE JUST GOT COMPLICATED: THE EDIACARAN FOSSILS OF CHARNWOOD FOREST
Life first appeared on Earth at least 3,800 million years ago but, for the great majority of this time, it was dominated by simple microbes. Large, complex organisms only appear at around 580 million years ago, but their position(s) in the tree of life and the trigger for their sudden appearance remain mysterious. Charnwood Forest, near Leicester, hosts the very earliest examples of these enigmatic organisms, and is at the forefront of research into understanding what they were, how they made their living, and how they helped pave the way for the modern world. The fossils form part of diverse communities, killed en masse and buried beneath submarine landslides of volcanic ash. Almost invisible in daylight, their exquisite detail can only easily be studied using laser scanning or silicone rubber moulding techniques. A programme of conservation and long-term monitoring is underway to protect these globally important fossils, including the effects of pollution and lichen-attack.