Article: Development and diversification of trunk plates of the Lower Cambrian lobopodians
Isolated lobopodian plates are reported from Early Cambrian strata at five localities in southern China. A wide variety of morphologies is represented, reflecting a considerable diversification within the phylum at this time. The new taxon Microdictyon jinshaense is erected and new observations are recorded on established taxa, based on examination of more than 600 well-preserved plates; irregular patterns of node distribution and the presence of large spines are documented on some taxa for the first time. Rare specimens in which two plates are conjoined, with a larger plate underlying a smaller one, are interpreted as showing a new sclerite emerging underneath its predecessor, which has not yet been moulted. These specimens confirm the process of ecdysis in the lobopodians and contribute to a fuller understanding of the ontogeny of these organisms. A functional hypothesis that suggests that the plates were complex visual structures is refuted; it is possible that they were sites of muscle attachment, but a protective role is regarded as more plausible.