Reef-Building At Least 550 Million Years Old, Started With First Animals With Hard Shells

The hows and by-whoms of the creation of the some of the first reefs on the planet has been somewhat cloaked in mystery, but now new research has shed a bit more light on the subject.

One of the oldest reefs in the world — built 550 million years ago, now located on dry land in Namibia — was built by the first animals known to have hard shells, Cloudina, according to new research from the University of Edinburgh.


According to new researchers, the ability to construct hard protective coats emerged at the same time as the ability to build reefs.

The press release from the University of Edinburgh provides more:

The study reveals that the animals attached themselves to fixed surfaces — and to each other — by producing natural cement composed of calcium carbonate, to form rigid structures. The creatures — known as Cloudina — built reefs in ancient seas that now form part of Namibia. Their fossilised remains are the oldest reefs of their type in the world.

Cloudina were tiny, filter-feeding creatures that lived on the seabed during the Ediacaran Period, which ended 541 million years ago. Fossil evidence indicates that animals had soft bodies until the emergence of Cloudina. Findings from the study — led by scientists at the — support previous research which suggested that environmental pressures caused species to develop new features and behaviours in order to survive.

Researchers say animals may have developed the ability to build reefs to protect themselves against increased threats from predators. Reefs also provided access to nutrient-rich currents at a time when there was growing competition for food and living space.

The researchers say that the emergence of hard biological structures set off an arms-race in the wider environment of the time — sparking great diversification.

The new findings were just published in the journal Science.

Image Credit: Fred Bowyer

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