Determining the patterns and processes that governed the early evolution of animals is one of the foremost areas of current palaeobiological research. After more than two billion years of exclusively microbial life, the rise of animals to ecological dominance following the Cambrian Explosion fundamentally changed the trajectory of the evolution of the biosphere. The Ediacaran Period encompasses this transition, and records the first evidence of complex macroscopic life, including remains of some of the earliest animals the fossil record gives up. Many aspects of the biology of these enigmatic Ediacaran biota remain contentious, and their classification remains in a state of flux, hampering our understanding of this critical interval in the history of life. Without robust taxonomic descriptions of these first animals, even basic ecological and diversity studies of these organisms and their communities cannot be reliably conducted.
These fossils present a suite of anatomies that are sometimes bizarre and have never again been repeated since their ultimate extinction, some 540 million years ago. This has meant that work towards the production of a taxonomic scheme has been fraught with difficulty, with many leading researchers in the field having published their own independent attempts at rationalising these organisms within wider Neoproterozoic (1000 – 541 Ma) diversity. Our workshop aims to achieve a consensus on classification of Ediacaran organisms, providing a solid foundation on which the field can progress.